BEN-GURION, EPILOGUE: in his own words, Israel’s founding leader reflects

Ben-Gurion, Epilogue

In Ben-Gurion, Epilogue, footage from a recently discovered video interview allows us to hear from Israel’s founding leader in his own words. In 1968, David Ben-Gurion was 82 years old and had been retired from public office for five years. Living on a remote kibbutz in the Negev Desert, he still had a lot to say.

Ben-Gurion was interviewed for seven hours over several days, but the video was lost until recently. First the images were found, which triggered a search for the sound. The result is Ben-Gurion, Epilogue, with the seven hours distilled down to one hour. Director Yariv Moser gets out of the way and lets Ben-Gurion speak for himself. The result is an important document of 20th Century history.

Not a guy who naturally “holds forth”, Ben-Gurion is prodded into revealing his inside view of his controversial acceptance of German reparations.  We also get his take on the Zionist movement (not exactly what you’d expect) and, of course the Big Question: land for peace.  There are also telling insights into his marriage.

You can find a separate 24-minute “making of” documentary on YouTube.

Ben-Gurion, Epilogue will screen at the SFJFF:

  • Cinearts (Palo Alto), Sunday, July 23 Noon
  • Castro (San Francisco), Saturday, July 29 1:45 PM
  • Albany Twin (Albany), Sunday, July 30 Noon.

The SFJFF runs from July 20 through August 6 at theaters in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, San Rafael and Oakland. You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

LEVINSKY PARK: refuge for refugees?


Israel was created as a home for refugees.  What happens when African refugees overwhelm a neglected Tel Aviv neighborhood is the subject of the topical documentary Levinsky Park.

Director Beth Toni Kruvant takes us to Tel Aviv’s hardscrabble Hatikva neighborhood,  now burdened with an influx of African refugees from sub-Saharan Africa.  The refugees aren’t Jewish, they don’t speak Hebrew and they sure aren’t white.  Discouraged from working legally, the refugees encamp on the streets and do what they need to survive.  The Israeli government senses a lose-lose media profile on the issue and tries to duck it entirely.

So how do the local Israelis react?  There is a wide spectrum. Some welcome and try to help people fleeing for their lives.  Others tag the newcomers with the loaded pejorative “infiltrators” and try to kick them out.  We see some ugly, overt racism in Levinsky Park, but nothing unlike what we’ve seen in the US in the Trump Era.

It’s the same question that confronts all countries in the West about political asylum-seekers – who will actually invite them in?  What’s different about Levinsky Park, of course, is that this is Israel – the one nation  created by and for refugees.

A leader emerges from the refugees, the charismatic and articulate Mutasim Ali.  He frames their plight as a movement, and they strive to regain some control over their own futures.  Levinsky Park is a compelling real-life story and screens at the SFJFF:

  • Castro (San Francisco), Thursday, July 27 11:15 AM
    Albany Twin (Albany), Friday, August 4 4:05 PM.

The SFJFF runs from July 20 through August 6 at theaters in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, San Rafael and Oakland. You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

THE WOMEN’S BALCONY: a righteous man must keep his woman happy


A community of women in a traditional culture revolt in the delightfully smart and funny Israeli comedy The Women’s Balcony.   The balcony in a small Jerusalem synagogue  collapses, and the building is condemned.  The old rabbi’s wife is seriously injured, and he suffers a trauma-induced psychotic breakdown.  Just when it looks like the leaderless congregation will die, a young and charismatic rabbi (Avraham Aviv Alush) appears, enlivens the congregation and repairs the building.  But he rebuilds the synagogue WITHOUT the women’s section.  Profoundly disrespected, the synagogue’s women strike in protest.

The women live in a culture where males have all the power and religious authority trumps all.  The women all have their individually distinct gifts, personalities and rivalries. But they all appreciate the injustice of the situation, and they are really pissed off.  They are very creative in finding way to leverage the power that they do have, and the result is very, very funny.

This could have been a very broad comedy (and a Lysistrata knock-off).  Instead, it’s richly textured, with an examination of ethical behavior and loving relationships.  It’s also dotted with comments on the relations between Israeli Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox and on the importance of food in this culture.  It’s the first – and very promising – feature for both director Emil Ben-Shimon and writer Shlomit Nehana.


There are plenty LOL moments, including a scene where one of the congregants masquerades as the demented old rabbi to secure the needed psychotropic meds.

We soon understand that the young rabbi has a very unattractive side – grossly sexist and power-hungry. But he has seduced the men and then cows them by manipulating his religious authority. He’s tearing apart a closely bound community braided together by decades of deep friendship and inter-reliance. The movie turns on whether the men can recognize when his supposed righteousness veers into what is really unethical and, in one pivotal scene with the old rabbi, indecent.

Two of the male characters, deeply in love with their women, step up and do the right thing. This overt comedy has a very a romantic core.

Most of all, The Women’s Balcony is about mature relationships. Most of these couples have been married for decades, especially the couple at the core of the story, Ettie (Evein Hagoel) and Zion (Igal Naor). Ben-Shimon and Nehana prove themselves to be keen and insightful observers of long-lasting relationships.

A righteous man must keep his woman happy. This may not be written in the Holy Scriptures, but it’s damn useful advice. (It also helps, we learn, if he can make a mean fruit salad.) The longer you’ve been married, the funnier you’ll find The Women’s Balcony.

WRESTLING JERUSALEM: it’s complicated


The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has inspired both documentary and narrative movies, but none is more imaginative than Wrestling Jerusalem. This year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SJFF36) will host Wrestling Jerusalem’s world premiere.

Wrestling Jerusalem is a one-man play written and performed by Aaron Davidman, who creates seventeen different characters, both Jews and Arabs, who each relate their own experiences of the conflict. Davidman portrays his characters without benefit of costume; he varies the accents, but mostly we can tell the characters apart from the content of their stories. Davidman’s performance is vivid and startlingly personal.

Davidman launches Wrestling Jerusalem with a montage of his characters explaining “It’s complicated” – a defining truth that most would accept. Then the characters continue by disagreeing about the conflict’s start (1946, 1947, 1967, 1973, the Hebron massacre – both of the massacres) and who is to blame for its continuation (Abbas, the settlers, the Orthodox, the terror attacks, Bibi, etc.). Then each character unspools his or her own perspective. Over a crisp 90 minutes, it’s absorbing stuff.

Thankfully, with one just guy on-screen for the entire film, the filmmakers keep Wrestling Jerusalem from being too stagey.  They place Davidman in two locations, a solitary theatrical stage and in the desert (looks like Israel/Palestine, but it’s the California Mojave).  It’s an impressive job by director Dylan Kussman, editor Erik C. Andersen and cinematographer Nicole Hirsch Whitaker.

Davidman has a point of view, but was careful not to make Wrestling Jerusalem into a screed. Instead, he’s careful to let his audience connect the dots in our own minds. Near the end, one of his characters says, “You are Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men” from Genesis 32:28, but does not does not finish the quote with “and have prevailed”.

You can experience Wrestling Jerusalem at its world premiere at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SJFF36), where you can see it at San Francisco’s Castro on July 27, at the Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater on July 30, at CineArts in Palo Alto on July 28 and at the Rafael in San Rafael on August 7

FALSE FLAG: holy moley, what a page-turner!


False Flag is an absolutely riveting Israeli miniseries that we’ll get to see in the US at some point.  The miniseries has 8 episodes (each a taut 45 minutes).  The first two episodes are playing together as one ninety-minute program at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SJFF36).

As False Flag opens,  Israeli television news reports that five Israeli citizens were responsible for the kidnapping of an Iranian diplomat out of his Moscow hotel.  We see four of the five – each appearing totally shocked by the revelation and denying any involvement to their families and friends.  They don’t seem to know each other, and  the only connection seems to be that they each have dual citizenship and a second passport.  We first question whether this was a covert operation by Israeli intelligence forces for which they were framed? But we soon learn that the Mossad wasn’t involved either, and Israeli security forces are soon hunting down the five to find out what really happened.

But then we start to learn that some of the five may be connected.  Their alibis have holes.  And some of the five are not what they seem.  Are they involved?  Who commissioned the kidnapping?  Who is going to find out and how?  And what is going to happen to each of the five?  False Flag evolves into a superb thriller that spans, at once, the genres of the whodunit, the paranoid thriller, the perfect crime movie and the espionage procedural.

The five protagonists have very different personalities, which makes False Flag a successful character-driven thriller.  The three women are a tough cookie, a party girl and a low-self esteemed shoulder-slumper.  The two men are a bewildered regular guy and an international man of mystery.  The acting from  Ishai Golan, Magi Azarzar, Orna Salinger, Ania Bukstein, and Angel Bonnani is first-rate.

False Flag (titled Kfulim in Hebrew) was broadcast last fall in Israel, and was the first non-English language series to be acquired by Fox International Channels.  It’s expected sometime in the next year on American TV.  The release of the first two episodes at SFJFF36 will help build buzz for the US release.

The Joke was on The Movie Gourmet.  When I was going through my screeners for the SFJFF36, I neglected to read anything about False Flag except for “thriller”, so I was expecting that the entire story was contained in the 90 minutes. When what is really Episode 2 ended, I was on the edge of my seat braying, “Oh no! What happens next?”.

You can get your own addicting taste of False Flag at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, where you can see it at CineArts in Palo Alto on July 23, at San Francisco’s Castro on July 30, at the Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater on July 31, and the Rafael in San Rafael on August 6.

Cinequest: Hunting Elephants

Hunting ElephantsAlong with The Grand Seduction, the Israeli caper comedy Hunting Elephants has been the audience favorite at Cinequest. Apparently, Israelis see just as little generosity, fair-mindedness and decency in their bankers as we do in ours. When a particularly smarmy banker goes too far, a victimized family unleashes a team of septuagenarians led by a 12-year-old to make things right. The old guys are veterans of Irgun, the Zionist terrorists (or freedom fighters, depending on your perspective) who forced an end to the British Mandate in Palestine, so they’re a particularly tough set of characters (even ravaged as they are by age). To their – and his – discomfort, they are teamed with an effete and pretentious scoundrel from the British stage (Patrick Stewart).

The genius of Hunting Elephants is that it combines the comic potential of a coming of age story, a geezer liberalization tale, a gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight saga and a fish-out-of-water (the Patrick Stewart character) farce. Mixed with the poignancy of the boy and the old men grasping for some dignity, the result is satisfying crowd pleaser.