Israel has a vibrant and sophisticated film industry. The Israeli Film Festival, which is still “on the (celluloid) boards” in New York City, is now in its twenty second year. It features a diversity of films which both celebrate and criticize Israel as well as life itself.
Saudi Arabia and other Arab Muslim states have nothing that compares.
In the mid-seventies, I was the moderator at the very first Middle East Film Festival which took place at the Bleecker Street Cinema with some discussions spilling over to New York University. That was an ambitious enterprise which, for the first time, showcased the work of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Arabs; of course, the God-blessed Jews were also fierce critics of the Jewish state.
I want to focus on two films only. “Till We Have Built Jerusalem” (or “There is a King in Jerusalem”), has rare footage of the City of Peace from the early twentieth century on. The scenes are touching, tender, terrible, but also unexpectedly intimate, the way home movies are. This is due to the primitive camera technology which renders major historical figures in a slightly jerky, amateur manner.
This film would be an important teaching tool and historical corrective to the often savage propaganda war against Israel and the Jews. It documents how very small, poor, and wretched Jerusalem was at the end of 400 years of Ottoman rule. Only 10,000 people lived there at the beginning of the twentieth century. At the end of World War One, it was a city with no food, fuel, medicine, or sanitation–a city unclaimed by any Arab nation. The film also presents the British in an unexpectedly favorable light and shows how difficult it was for them to please both the Arabs and the Jews. And, it fills in some historical gaps.
For example: After the Turks abandon the city, we see the Mayor of Jerusalem trying to find someone–anyone–among the British to whom to “surrender” the city in December of 1917; we see the British-Jewish High Commissioner, a top-hatted Herbert Samuel, walk a great distance to pray in a synagogue in the Old City on his first Shabbat in the Holy Land–and are told that he said: “Nahamu, nahamu Ami” (be comforted, be comforted, my people); we see the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, elevated by Samuel (!) as he turns an initially peaceful reign into one in which he incites his people against the Jews; we also see him meeting with Hitler’s right hand men; we learn that the same architect who built the Empire State Building also built the YMCA in Jerusalem. (His name was Louis Harmon).
Clearly, this film was a labor of love. Ya’kov Gross, the historian who researched and wrote the film, together with director Eli Cohen and producer Zvi Shefi did this film on a shoe-string budget. Now, they need $30,000.00 to reduce their debt to the various archival companies without which they cannot begin to copy and distribute the film for educational purposes.
Ya’akov Gross, who spoke to us in person, wants “everyone in the world to be able to see this film in order that they understand the status of Jerusalem in the twentieth century.” I strongly recommend that people make a donation to this film project. Gross may be reached at [email protected]
The Festival has a website: www.israelfilmfestival.com . It runs until November 8th. I urge you to attend this wonderful Israeli-New York event at the Clearview Cinema 62nd and Broadway.