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The 12th Cinema South Film Festival and Albert Maysles cinematic achievement

 

Dr. Avner Faingulernt
Head of School of Audio and Visual Arts, Sapir College
Founder, Cinema South Film Festival


It was a bad moment in post-war America. In the summer of  1955, the Cold War with the Soviet Union was intense. Senator  Joseph R. McCarthy was witch-hunting so-called communists  in America, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was tracking and  filing every imagined “enemy” as well. This meant the blacklisting  of many artists, writers and other cultural figures. Especially in  Hollywood, blacklisting meant the end of careers. In this era, a young lecturer from Boston University, with no money, borrowed a 16-mm. camera, to break through the Iron  Curtain publicly and to travel to Moscow in order to get behind  the so-called Soviet monster, to photograph the Russian people  and the Russian soul. Although he had never before held a movie  camera, he believed and felt deeply that it could be an effective  way of building a bridge to transcend hatred, prejudice, ignorance  and the brainwashing that had transformed America into the  paranoiac and dangerous place it had become.


The young lecturer was Albert Maysles, who is this year’s  guest of honor at the 12th Cinema South Film Festival. Maysles,  who was at the time a young teacher of psychology, having just  received his Master’s degree in psychology from Boston University,  set off to photograph people and scenes in psychiatric hospitals  in Russia. His experience turned into his first film: “Psychiatry in  Russia.” It was a turning point. This courageous, penniless young  man decided to become a filmmaker. From the first moment, he  sought to invent a cinematic language that takes a close look at  people and at the reality in which they live, a cinematic language  in which the camera is invisible to the viewer but is clearly seen by  the subject being filmed. This was the era when a new kind of film  was born: direct cinema, with techniques and an approach that  are still taught today and which has had a major impact on cinema  throughout the world.


Maysles’ cinematic achievement has been a major inspiration  for me. In the dream to create a world of cinema and culture in  southern Israel, here is the essence of what I believe with regard  to art – namely, art’s ability to photograph the “Other” even when  the “Other” is frightening and dangerous. I believe in art’s ability  to photograph even a frightening, dangerous “Other” from a  deep, insightful perspective until loving, curious, compassionate  humanity bursts forth onto the screen – each time in a unique  cinematic language that is not bound to any agenda or ideology.  In my view, this is the starting point for the creation of cinema in  southern Israel, for the Cinema South Film Festival and for Sapir  College’s School of Audio and Visual Arts. This is the starting point  for the creation of cinema as part of the vision to build a center for  filmmaking and for cinematic research and production here in the  Western Negev region of Israel.


A spirit of freedom and humanity characterizes the people who  today are the leaders and the driving force of the Cinema South Film  Festival – Hagar Saad Shalom, Efrat Corem, Erez Pery and Sigal  Golan – all of whom are graduates of our school. Not only is this  spirit being preserved, it is continuing to develop and to expand to  places that I could never have imagined. For everything they have  done and are continuing to do, I thank them as I look forward with  excited anticipation to this unique creation, which is once again  bursting forth in its 12th consecutive year with the inspiration of  Albert Maysles’ cinematic achievement – an achievement that is  essentially the human, always curious search for the unique spark  in the human soul, a search that itself is a primordial element and  which seeks the good side of life while not being afraid to study  what is evil and painful.

 

Southern Syndrome

 

Efrat Corem and Erez Pery
Artistic Directors
The 12th Cinema South Film Festival


Someone once shrewdly – and with justification – suggested  that people should enjoy the symptoms of their disease. The  Cinema South Film Festival, undoubtedly enjoys the symptoms it  suffers from.The fact that an international film festival would take  place in an unexpected place such as the south of Israel on a  border that could ignite within seconds, is neither clear nor self  evident; however, for those who have made this festival happen it  is an act that is not only essential, but inevitable. One could even  go further and say that the need for creation in this region of Israel  is symptomatic of an incurable disease. And to the organizers  who make it happen, it is impossible to erase, or recover from its  effects. And that is why we refer to the Cinema South Film Festival,  as southern symptoms.


What are those southern symptoms? To explain their meaning,  let us cite someone to whose films and achievements we have  dedicated this year's “Focus” in the Israeli program: Uri Zohar,  an incredible filmmaker who in mid-life became an ultra-orthodox  rabbi. In one of his books, whose title might be translated “Life  Is a Lifelong Job,” Rabbi Zohar describes to his students and  his readers what, in his view, is the Jew’s role in the world: “To  always maintain one's center, which to him simultaneously is also  the breaking-point. In other words to consciously strive for this  breaking-point is also to consciously strive for one's center. This  is what it means to be a Jew.” A breaking-point between two  sustainable essences in the life of an individual, between matter  and spirit, between body and soul. They may seem contrary  elements that are not connected; however, they exist, and each  individual must know how to live with a blend of both of them: to  recognize that is to live at one's center, which may also mean to  live at one's breaking-point.


One of the typical characteristics of southern symptoms is the  strong desire, the stubborn determination, to connect opposite  poles: to both insist on being opposites, in disconnected places  and yet to bring them year after year together in this annual  celebration of cinema, the Seventh Art.


The opening and closing of this year’s festival deal with  disconnected themes. The festival’s opening film, Arabani,  directed by Adi Adwan ,which blends in its title both Arabic and  Hebrew words, creates an unfamiliar third, and mostly threatening,  space. The film tells the story of a Druze man who returns with  his two children to his home village after divorcing his Israeli wife.  This emotionally charged encounter is graphically shown. This  year's festival’s closing film , “The Wonders,” is directed by Avi  Nesher, a dear friend of the CSFF. Much to our delight, he sees  our festival as a warm home to screen his films. The film “The  Wonders” too deals with the connection between two powerful,  sometimes opposite forces: art and religious faith. As with the  Hebrew words for Hebrew (Ivrit) and Arabic (Aravit), the Hebrew  words for “art” (omanut) and “religious faith (emuna) stem from the  same roots. While the opening film occupies our minds with the  idea of a connection and the price to pay, when destroying that  connection, the closing film shows us in a marvelous way that a  connection even if it may seem unachievable may be worthwhile.  

 

Between being unachievable and being worthwhile, the  Cinema South Film Festival exists, a festival packed with guests, films, encounters, musical performances and parties. Premiere screenings of new Israeli films take place each evening of the festival, and this year an independent cinema competition  and a documentary cinema program has been added. There will be a tribute to one of our guests of honor, Albert Maysles,  which also will be the subject of a Focus program as part of the festival’s internationalsection. Maysles is one of the founders  of documentary cinema itself. In addition to the screening of a number of his films, there is a unique workshop for students  from Israel, Berlin and Prague. A sincere desire on the part of the festival’s organizers to reach like-minded cineasts who are close to us in content and form, but perhaps distant geographically, has also brought about a cooperative relationship with the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema (BAFICI). This year, we are privileged to have with us two Argentine directors, Martin Rejtman and Santiago Mitre, who create daring, radical, uncompromising cinema.


Today, as one sees diplomacy stagnating and rifts between states created, the 7th art enables a connection between Israeli  cinema and Turkish cinema. Thus, we feel very honored to have  with us two Turkish directors, Özcan Alper, a representative of a  cinema that faithfully depicts the reality of contemporary Turkey  in his fiction films, and one of the most respected documentary  film directors, Yelda Yanat Kapkin. Jennifer Getzinger, a very well  known American director of the highly esteemed television series,  “Mad Men,” will lead a Master’s class as well as professional  encounters on women’s role in television and in life. There will  also be a new complex section devoted to fringe art – artistic  experiments blending various mediums. Another event at this  year's festival will be an international coproduction lab for young  filmmakers in the south of Israel, which is a joint project of the  festival, the French Institute in Tel Aviv, the German Foreign Ministry  and other bodies- too many to mention here. These projects reflect  the importance of the existence of this film festival, which more  then once has been perceived and seemed impossible to achieve,  a breaking-point that we have never regretted and which has been  always worthwhile.


This year CSFF is celebrating its 12th year and is happy to  welcome all our guests to a week- devoted to cinema and to  having fun together, to a festival that is incurable - but is always  warm, loving and inviting – a place for each and everyone

 
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