There is something about the term “festival” that suddenly becomes less colorful when the word “film” gets tacked on the front end. Visions of balloons, performers, activities and delicious foods are instantly replaced with a flickering screen and quiet, darkened theater. The Israeli Film Festival committee is determined to steer clear of these ho-hum connotations — and, with upwards of 100 spectators at the movie showings and events so far this week, success seems within reach.
This year marks the ninth Israeli Film Festival on campus, according to the committee’s primary organizer, senior Jaclyn Schindler. She said since she and the group of six other students on the committee became involved, there has been a lot more organization, publicity and planning. Past festival-goers were only attracted by extra credit for Hebrew class or the films themselves, but face painting, notable speakers, free popcorn and traditional Israeli fare are just a few reasons for the high attendance this year, which began Sunday and will have its last two showings tonight at The Waisman Center.
“We are taking it above and beyond,” said Michelle Cimbol, a senior on the committee who worked with funding and promotion. “The Jewish community on campus is really small, and the Israeli community on campus is even smaller, so the fact that people are starting to recognize this is really amazing.”
A big emphasis for the Israeli Film Festival has always been one of welcoming all individuals. Since the films thus far have been shown on a screen inside the Hillel building, which is a Jewish campus organization on Langdon Street, the committee hopes that non-Jewish students are not scared away by a feeling of exclusion.
“It’s not just for Jews,” Schindler said. “None of the movies are religious, so you don’t have to know anything about Judaism or Israel. People hear Hillel and think ‘Oh, I can’t go.’ We are very open.”
The committee chose the 10 films based on their reputations, ones that spoke to members’ experiences studying in Israel and, most of all, films that embodied the theme for this year’s festival: “Diversity in Israel.” The films’ genres range from comedy and horror flicks to romance and drama. The committee members feel their selections embody a truly diverse array of perspectives on Israel — with the exception of violence.
“We want to make it a positive experience for people on campus because not a lot of people are necessarily learned in things going on in the Middle East, specifically Israel,” Cimbol said, adding that the arts are an effective way to reach and unite people of different backgrounds, since human emotions are universal. “A lot of people have negative connotations based on what the media says. … Our goal is that people will come see the movies and realize that Israel isn’t a third world desert; it has a society, an economy, technology, arts and all these other things.”
By showing films that were shot in Israel and illustrate characters growing up there, the committee hopes viewers will draw parallels with their own lives and realize Israel is not so different from other first-world countries. Shifra Rothenberg, who is a senior on the committee who studies film, shared the notion that the film festival has a unique ability to offer a lighter point from which to view the Middle Eastern country.
“We wanted to show positive recognition toward Israel; the daily life. It’s not all war,” she said. “Film is a really good art form that anyone can use and understand because film is such a part of our lives. Showing Israel through a film is a really great way of having anyone understand the country.”
The free films playing tonight at The Waisman Center are presented in conjunction with another group, the department of communicative disorders. The committee planned to show a film about a deaf community in Israel, then learned another film on the same topic would be showing that night. Therefore, “Voices from El-Sayed” will be playing at 6 p.m. followed by a talk by the director, Oded Adomi Leshem, and then “Deaf Jam” will show at 7:15 p.m. There will also be a discussion with a panel of students with communicative disorders and a dessert reception.
“It’s kind of integrating a different aspect of the community,” Schindler said of the pairing.
Schindler said she feels rewarded in exposing students to films they wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience in a theater setting. She said she hopes the festival can continue to be a large event in future years under new leadership. Cimbol said she agrees, saying she thinks the event is finally getting the recognition it is owed.
“People are starting to take notice,” she said.
For more information on the Israeli Film Festival, visit its website at www.israelfilm.weebly.com.