The Other Israel Film Festival is shining a light on individual narratives in order to tackle larger issues.
Since 2007, the Other Israel Film Festival has shown movies that highlight the voices of Israeli minorities.
"I think it's very important to show different lives of different Israeli citizens, who are not part, an integral part, of the Jewish state, by the fact they are not Jews and by the other fact that Israel tries to hold everyone inside," Mohammad Bakri, one of the directors who has a short film in the festival this year, said.
The festival features several movies that explore controversial issues, like Israel's immigration laws or an Arab-Jewish marriage in the 1960s.
"This is not a festival that's done only for people who agree with what's on screen," member of the festival's advisory committee and Columbia film professor Richard Peña said.
From Nov. 6 to 13, the Other Israel Film Festival will host movie showings and events that talk about the role of minority populations, including Arab Jews, Filipino immigrants, and Israeli-Palestinians.
One of the main features of the festival is the discussion that follows each movie about the issues the narrative touches on.
"We realized that is the key to the festival," Executive Director Isaac Zablocki said. "We can watch a film everywhere, we can watch it on a TV at home, but what a film festival really should be giving is the extra value of the conversation."
Founder of the Other Israel Film Festival Carole Zabar said that since its creation, the organizers have formed connections with Palestinian filmmakers, which have allowed the festival to improve over the years.
"Israel's only got 8 million people, so the number of Palestinian-Israeli filmmakers, actors, directors is necessarily a small group, so we've really gotten to know them," Zabar said. "We've forged real relationships with everyone who's in that industry and a lot of other people in the film industry, and it's been a huge help."
Bakri said that he thinks the emphasis on minority voices in Israel will allow audiences to see cultures beyond the mainstream.
"That is already not the mainstream because the Palestinian community inside Israel is a minority," Bakri said. "Life is different, the culture is different, the language is different, the landscape is different—everything is different ... The mainstream is Tel Aviv, Jerusalem—West Jerusalem—and big cities in Israel, where the majorities are Jewish. Here it's different."
The festival features films like "FIRE LINES," a documentary about cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian firefighters during the deadliest fire in Israel's history in Mount Carmel, outside of Haifa, in 2010.
"These are the kinds of ways communities have to work together," Peña said.
"Seeing these kinds of narratives portrayed I think are really impactful," Benjamin Lewinter, CC '16 and president of Aryeh, a pro-Israel student organization at Columbia, said about the descriptions of movies in the festival. "Sometimes they go so against what is the conventional understanding of the conflict that it can be shocking and change people's views."
Zablocki said movies about cross-cultural connections were something the festival initially didn't prioritize showing, but the movies have to portray the reality of the difficulties that can accompany working together.
"These are topics we stayed away from a little bit," he said. But as the festival has grown, organizers have added movies that include interpersonal collaboration. "We felt our audiences wanted these kind of films. ... I think we needed more hope, and these give hope."
Columbia/Barnard Hillel, an official partner of the festival, will copresent the "The Dove Flyer," which tells the story of the Jewish community in 1950s Iraq before their immigration to Israel and the rise of the Zionist underground movement.
"Touching upon these challenges is also admitting that each society is facing challenges," Hillel Israel Fellow Yonatan Arnon said. "We are going to see a movie that is talking about a Jewish minority in Arab states, and to see how they themselves became a community that sort of envisioned the Jewish state but at the same time had very strong ties with the Muslim society."
Zabar said that though "The Dove Flyer" doesn't focus on an Israeli minority, the themes of discrimination in the movie tie it to the festival.
"It fits in in the sense that everybody from Iraq—they're considered Arab Jews, and they faced very similar prejudices to the Arab minority and they also lived a life in Iraq cheek by jowl with Arabs," Zabar said. "That's a piece of Israeli history that's really important to reflect on because everybody thinks of coming over from Russia and Poland."
"This was a culture that, a year after that movie takes place, no longer exists," Zablocki added. "That world didn't exist, none of them were left in Iraq ... and then of course that society had to completely change."
Because of the festival's focus on depicting minority voices in Israel, many of the films shown touch on the conflict between Israel and Palestine in various points of history and attempt to bridge the divide.
"I think there is a certain feeling for some people, sadly, that Israel is radioactive," Peña said. "The wisest path is not to simply say, 'Let's avoid it.'"
Zablocki and Zabar said that they felt that the festival's location in New York City provides participants the opportunity to speak openly about issues in the region.
"If we brought people in just to debate the topics, I don't think we'd get anywhere," Zablocki said. "It's about the art. ... It's no longer the black and white images, right and wrong, this side did this thing. You see humanity, you see people in the films, you spend an hour and a half long seeing a window into the real lives of Arabs in Israel and not just the headlines of a Palestinian killed or an Israeli soldier killed or whatever it is. And I think that's what allows people to actually engage and talk about it—you're talking about people and not about the political situation."
Several of the movies in the festival also focus on instances of collaboration across the Israeli-Palestinian cultural divide.
"The narrative we usually get is that they're archenemies," Lewinter said. "But when you're there and you see people just mixing and interacting, you don't really get that feeling."
Arnon said he felt that the coverage of the most recent war in Gaza over the summer highlighted limitations in the way the region is covered in the news.
"I think that the international media coverage unfortunately does not understand the nuanced complexities within Israeli societies," Arnon said.
Zablocki also said that he felt Western news coverage often oversimplifies the conflicts in Israel.
"That's not really understanding the realities of Israel," he said. "Knowing the day-to-day life and the people play much bigger parts than you would see in the coverage from the major American newspapers."
Lewinter said he believes that confirmation bias affects both how media is reported and perceived.
"I think the media fills a need, when dealing with such a complicated conflict, to make both sides seem right, so it gives what it believes are very balanced portrayals." he said. "People will view a documentary that conflicts with their opinion, but they'll only pick out the snippets that they agree with, and those are the parts that will stick out in their minds—that's confirmation bias. That's everywhere. You can't avoid that."
In addition to showing individual perspectives, Zabar said she believes that movies provide an insight into societal perceptions.
"Film speaks in a way you don't mean it to speak," she said. "Our films are also reflecting a reality nobody's meaning to say."
Bakri said that he thinks the movies shown can work to counter people's preconceived notions about Israeli identity.
"It puts new questions in the mind of the audience, it puts new information also about ... the meaning of mainstream and not mainstream," Bakri said. "When you have something that you are absolutely sure is like that, and I bring you some evidence which is different, which is not exactly what you thought, it makes you confused. This confusion that this festival can create—I think this is the effect that's worth to do the festival for."
Other Israel Film Festival screenings and discussions run from Nov. 6 to 13. All movies are shown at the Manhattan Jewish Community Center at 76th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Student tickets are $6.
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Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Yonatan Arnon as Yonatan Aron. Spectator regrets the error.