Film series explores faces of Israeli social and cultural mosaic

Film series explores faces of Israeli social and cultural mosaic

A scene from "The Name My Mother Gave Me."

A three-part documentary series exploring Israeli culture, politics and identity begins Sept. 26 with "The Name My Mother Gave Me."

The Younes & Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies is opening up its ever growing documentary film collection and encouraging audiences to examine the lives of average Israelis, each with compelling stories to tell.

“I believe in film as an art form that can serve as an important — and in many cases, accessible —vehicle for understanding multiple aspects of a given culture,” says Arieh Saposnik, the center’s director and a cultural historian of Israel and Zionism. “In the last two and a half decades or so, the Israeli film industry has gone through a process of notable professionalization, with the production levels of Israeli features being of the highest standard. What is less familiar is Israel’s thriving—and no less compelling—documentary film industry.”

The three-part series begins Sept. 26 with a screening of “The Name My Mother Gave Me,” which follows young Ethiopian and Russian Israelis who meet at a leadership-training program in Israel. Their year of learning culminates in a journey to Ethiopia, where the Ethiopian-born participants return to their native villages and confront their roots. Though back home in Israel, the participants might consider themselves members of the fringes of Israeli society, in the highlands of the Ethiopian landscape they discover the universality of their experiences and their shared commitment to their new home in Israel. In 2009, the film earned the Audience Choice award at the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema.

The series continues on Oct. 26 with “Wandering Eyes,” winner of DocAviv Festival in 2010. Directed by Ofir Trainin and produced by Shahar Ben-Hur, the film chronicles the soul-searching journey of Gabriel Belhassan, a musician and former orthodox Jew who struggles with manic depression. After being released from a mental institution, he moves to Tel Aviv, begins working on a solo album and endures the challenges of urban solitude, professional pressures and mental health setbacks.

The final installment for the fall quarter is “The Volunteers,” which will be screened on Nov. 28. It is a story of youthful exuberance and the search for personal identity. In the 1960s, Israel was a young country under siege. The idealism of a new country and the romanticism of the kibbutz propelled many non-Jews to travel to Israel to work on kibbutzim. The documentary follows a group of European volunteers and their Israeli partners. Their stories raise questions about the complexity of personal and national identity.

“Israeli society tends generally to be a self-probing one—a society that asks itself who it is, in new ways, with each generation—and documentary film is one means through which this search for identity takes place,” says Saposnik.  “One of the goals of our center is to explore and to expose the multiple layers of Israeli identity, culture, society, politics, and this is the main purpose of the collection and of the series this year.”

Each of the films will be shown in Royce Hall 362. Each screening will run from 6 to 8 p.m. Further screenings will continue in winter and fall quarters. For more information, call (310) 825-9646 or send an email to

Published: Monday, September 26, 2011