Introduction, or the “Paper Tiger” 

In the short story collection “Tigers on the Tenth Day” by the exiled Syrian author Zekaria Tamer, the title story is a beautiful parable about life and humanity. The story, translated into Hebrew by Alon Fragman tells of a wild and prideful tiger who is captured: “The forests grew further from the tiger locked in the cage, but he could not forget them.” The tiger glares at his captors in terrible rage, as one of them begins speaking in a quiet confident voice:

If you really want to learn my craft, the craft of animal taming, you must never forget, even for a moment, that your opponent’s stomach is your ultimate target. […] take a look at this tiger. This tiger is bad tempered, arrogant and full of pride in his freedom, strength and power. But he will change and become gentle, soft, and obedient, like a little child. Pay attention to what happens between those who control the food and those

Over the course of the story the tiger undergoes a series of degradations, all related to hunger and control over food, and ultimately, he breaks down and heartbreakingly becomes an obedient creature with no character, personality or emotions.

On the ninth day the trainer arrived, carrying a bundle of grass. He tossed it to the tiger and said ‘eat.’ The tiger said, ‘what’s this? I’m a carnivore.’ The trainer replied: ‘from this day onwards you will eat nothing but grass.’ When hunger overcame him the tiger tried to eat the grass, but he was repulsed by the taste and backed away in disgust. Finally though he returned to it and slowly became accustomed to its taste.

At the story’s conclusion, Tamer adds a final line: “On the tenth day, the trainer, his pupils, the tiger and the cage all disappeared. The tiger became a citizen, and the cage the city.”

For many years now, I have felt that the issue at stake for Cinema South is how not to become a citizen of that kind of city and cage, how to continue being wild, sensual and beastly, emotional and vital. This question continues to trouble us because we are part of a city and society, but we also want to transform them. We believe that Cinema South offers a different way of thinking, one which does not bow down to the pressures of a perspective reflecting, first and foremost, the consumerist interpretations of images and sponsors, at the expense of a commitment to the artists, their creations, and the audience. Viewing the Festival as a consumer product would make it a festival focused on competitions over money and prizes. Indeed, the danger in creating a festival framework that is focused on an ‘image’ of prestige and on mass ticket sales is that it might find itself caught in a position that cannot commit to creativity and is fearful of presenting cinema that is challenging, disruptive, doubting, exciting and committed to the path of ‘minor literature,’ described by Gilles Deleuze as creativity which aspires to be itself rather than serving a position of some sort.  Thus, cinema is art to me. In other words, to be a tiger, I believe, is first and foremost to be a tiger; to be straightforward art. This is also what a film festival should aspire to be: one of the final cultural frontiers that does not serve specific agendas, which does not flatter and sweet-talk the moneyed and powerful who can promote it: it should not be afraid of being starved and fed grass instead of meat.

For fourteen years now, we have been envisioning Cinema South as a sort of ‘town hall’ – the ‘agora’ of creativity – where we meet once a year to talk, argue, write, and discuss cinema and cinematic creation without prejudices, to enter the world of the filmmaker and the craft of film making. We do this without fear that what is said might not be to the liking of those who do not accept cinema as act of human creation, which reveals what might remain unknown were it not for that creation through Sisyphean, often tortuous, and often sublime and joyful labor.

This is the greatest challenge to creating that ‘agora’ of art and cinema we believe in… Nonetheless, the rewards are great, because in the attempt, against all odds, there is the possibility of creating a city and society; an alternative foundation to that cage/city of the tiger tamer.

I would like to describe that city, society and foundation through the parable of “The Snail, a poem witten by Primo Levi in 1983, many years after emerging from the extermination camps of WW2.

… if the universe turns hostile,
You can seal yourself silently
Behind your white limestone covering,
Deny the world, and deny yourself to it.
Levi then goes on to present the alternative for which it is worth insisting on the tiger-ish perspective, an insistence on inner truth, which created a society that is better, more honest, free and committed to the emotion and content it brings to the world:

But when the grass is covered in dew,

Or the rain has softened the earth,

Each path is a highway,
Paved with fine shiny slime,
A bridge from leaf to leaf, and stone to stone.

It is interesting that Primo Levi continues and takes this poem to the world of love. In other words, if we have a different kind of foundation, one that is open and free and emotional, then the snail is able to experience the most sublime emotion of all – love.

You navigate with care, secret and sure,
Sound out the way with telescopic eyes

with their revolting logarithmic charm

And you find your mate,

You taste with trepidation

As you extend tensely from your shell

The timid grace of redoubled love.

 

Our love is redoubled as well – the love of the filmmakers and the works we present, and that of the audience, here to experience something unsettling, exciting, emotionally laden and spiritually uplifting.

This year’s opening film is PS. JERUSALEM, by Danae Elon: A documentary – personal, painful, and touching upon the most sensitive issues in Israeli society today – concluding a personal and family trilogy moving between Israel, Palestine and America.

Moshe Mizrahi is a filmmaker existing on the sidelines of the contemporary world of cinema, and few of the younger generations know his name or are appreciative of the wealth of his body of work and his achievements in world cinema, including winning an Oscar for Madame Rosa in the foreign film category – an achievement no Israeli director has managed to repeat. The retrospective of Mizrahi’s work includes many of his most important films, but the highlight is the screening of his first feature film, Ore’ah Beona Metah (The Off-Season Customer), which was part of the official competition in the 1970 Berlin Film Festival and has not been seen since. The restoration and screening of this film, comparable to Polanski’s Knife in the Water, is a key event in the festival as we see it.

Our esteemed guests from abroad are leading filmmakers in the world Art House film scene – Sergei Lozntisa from the Ukraine, Ali Hamroyev from Uzbekistan, Karim Karim Aïnouz from Brazil-Berlin, Sandra Kogut from Brazil-Paris, and Pia Marais of Germany – are all filmmakers who are redefining cinematic language, and whose work has been screened at some of the most important film festivals and has received some of the most important awards.

We present pre-premiere screenings of films by Israeli filmmakers: Erez Pery’s first feature film, Commandant, a revolutionary film presenting a novel and hard to swallow perspective on Rudolf Hess, the first commander of the Auschwitz extermination camp; Elad Keidan’s Hayored Lema’ala (Afterthought) straight from Cannes, is a poetic meditation on the nature of man and his search for himself, even at the expense of who he thinks he is; Lee Gilat’s first film, Hakafot (Encirclements), is a star-studded movie that is unafraid of painting the father-son relationship as crucial in the lives of both; Dan Wolman reveals his deepest anxieties in The Director’s Anxiety, through a portrait of a young filmmaker serving as the alter-ego of one of Israeli cinema’s most important veteran filmmakers, Wolman himself; Ariel Cohen, a graduate of Sapir College who has travelled between the far ends of the secular‒ultra-orthodox religious spectrum, is one of the key filmmakers in a new and ambitious religious film scene. He is here with his film Mi At?

The documentaries we are screening are: My Beloved Pardes Katz, a film by Eran Barak, which fearlessly presents a complex of familial and environmental relationships that still cause great discomfort in Israel, which continues to delude itself that it is European and is unwilling to recognize life in the peripheries as central to its experience; Shir Yedidot by Rafael Balulu and Seret Aravit by Eyal Sagi-Bizawi, two filmmakers who present the depth and richness of Arab culture, forbidden for many decades, to center stage; Two Sapir college graduates with their new films – Meital Abukasis with her film Shem.Av, and Ophir Raul Greitzer with Minyan. Both present a critical and painful perspective on the question of their Israeli existence through their families, in relationship to the place they are now residing in, Berlin.

And finally, a presentation of films by our graduates – the new Cinema South, with animation, film and television works by those who, together with their peers from other film schools, will take center stage in Israeli filmmaking in the future. We also present the special projects made by our Master’s students in the workshop on invisible people along the road in a journey through the desert and Moravia in the Czech Republic; works by students in documentary animation, some of whom worked at the Holot facility housing asylum seekers from Sudan; a documentary project in the South Series – Eight months after last summer’s war; and our traditional beloved screenings of South Minute and Video Dance, television pitching and Southern Soundtrack. They are all the products of intensive and dedicated work by our four hundred and fifty students and a hundred and twenty teachers at Sapir Academic College’s School of Audio and Visual Arts over more than a decade.

All this abundance of creativity is wrapped in music and lots more music on the Cinematheque square, pulsating and vibrating all week long. Nearby is the Fringe complex of fun in front of Sederot’s city hall, with workshops, performances, parties and celebrations into the night, throughout the five days of the festival. After all, it is a festival – an unmediated, unaffected celebration that generously opens up to anyone visiting our southern ‘agora,’ that space we generate together with our dear esteemed partners in the festival, and with our students – the engine driving all this astonishing creativity which keeps itself a tiger and a snail, a cage and city, a rare festive space in this land.

See you at the Festival,

Prof. Avner Faingulernt

Director, School of Audio and Visual Arts

Founder, South Film Festival

Sapir Academic College