– by David Morgan-Brown
With the AICE Israeli Film Festival currently on at Cinema Paradiso, I was able to delve into some Israeli cinema (embarrassingly for the first time) with two very low-budget, yet very realist films from the Heymann Brothers, Almost Friends and Aliza.
Aliza, filmed back in 1995, documents the life of one of Israel’s most enduring actresses and singers, Aliza Rosen, who was a big star in Israeli films and TV shows back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, some the material we see here (and some of it is very surprisingly crudely hilarious). Our documenter Tomer Heymann follows Aliza as she invites him and the audience into her life and the sort of work she still performs, as well as her personal life. Tomer shows resilience in his documentary abilities here, especially towards the end as he tries to pry more and more into Aliza’s life, trying to uncover how her life influences her art, and this climaxes with a heated comment from her about how much personal detail she can divulge to him and the audience.
This is a fascinating little look into a highlight of Israel’s creative talents, utilising a great wealth of archive footage to really show us the contribution she made to this culture’s entertainment and arts. But her most challenging performance was to play herself in this documentary, where guards are built and smashed, only to be rebuilt. Like a similar recent documentary, Iris, Aliza still comes across as unafraid and defiant about what she wants and what she believes in, and by even jeopardising the filming of her documentary only makes this even more captivating.
Almost Friends is also a documentary, but wonderfully filmed in a way to make it appear like a fictional film (and a very authentic and realistic one at that). A young Arab girl from a secular school, Samar, begins an online friendship with another young girl from a religious school, Linor, through their education programs at their schools. However, they are separated by not only 67 kilometres, but by a vast national, cultural, and ideological abyss. Although their education programs help to bring them together, soon face-to-face, they are influenced politically by their parents, continuing the egregious tradition of prejudice and mistrust.
Almost Friends tells a small and simple story, one with large political and emotional insights. It’s a personal story, told through the simplicity of these children’s lives, but we do see them grow up just a little as they form their views on these new issues on race, prejudice, friendship, and humanity that has entered their lives. Despite the on-screen happiness, it’s a story tinged with sadness, due to the perpetuating discrimination that is unfortunately evident in the culture. This film has been produced to bring viewers through an emotional experience of a political debate, one that has strong humanist values and one that will hopefully (even if just by a bit) shift people’s opinions to be more inclusive towards others.
I was thoroughly impressed by these two films, by their starkness and how up-front they are about their thematic material. I think it’d be in my own interest, and others, to check out more of these wonderful documentaries and films at this terrific little festival, and delve into a world far away from our own.
The AICE Israeli Film Festival is screening at Cinema Paradiso from 20 – 26 August. Get your tickets here.
Read our interview with producer Barak Heymann here.
Check out more on the Heymann Brothers’ movies here.