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Ma’aleh Film School hosts international academics for Israel primer

CM 27/07/2021

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While many in academia in the US and around the world have negative attitudes toward Israel, there are more than a few professors abroad who want to learn more about the Jewish state so they can teach their students about the country accurately.

The Schusterman Center’s Summer Institute for Israel Studies (SIIS) has helped hundreds of academics from more than 200 institutions across North America and around the world to teach Israel Studies in a balanced way.
SIIS welcomes these faculty members to Brandeis University to study about Israeli intensively with Israel studies scholars who help them develop syllabi for courses they plan to teach upon returning to their home institutions. This residency is followed by a 10-day tour of Israel, featuring encounters with Jewish and Arab intellectuals, politicians and community leaders.
Once they are in Israel, one of the stops on their itinerary is a visit to the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film and the Arts located in the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem, where haredim and hipsters mingle on the streets. Ma’aleh was founded in 1989 to provide a welcoming environment for religiously observant students to study filmmaking, however, the school accepts all kinds of students no matter what their level of observance. At Ma’aleh, SIIS participants watch films by students and discuss their movies, which raise all kinds of issues, some of which are universal and some of which are particularly Israel- and Judaism-oriented, with Ma’aleh staff and filmmakers. If the professors are interested, they can arrange to show these films – or other films in the extensive Ma’aleh catalog of student films – to their own students back home.
Recently, I joined a group of SIIS fellows as they got to see two short films at Ma’aleh, movies that were very different and that illustrate the diversity of viewpoints and filmmaking styles represented by Ma’aleh students. The SIIS faculty were also an extremely diverse group, with participants from all over the US, including Bluefield State College in West Virginia, West Texas A&M University, University of Hawaii, Howard University, the US Air Force Academy, the US Naval Academy, Kent State University and several others, as well as universities in Zurich and Prague.

The films were introduced by Emanuel Cohn, a Ma’aleh graduate who was the star and screenwriter of the second film. The first movie, Barriers by Golan Rise, is just 23 minutes long, but it tells a complex and suspenseful story about three soldiers in charge of a checkpoint on the West Bank who must make a life-or-death decision with little time and information. It stars Ori Lachmi (who played Nati’s brother on the popular series Srugim, which was created by Ma’aleh graduates Hava Divon and Eliezer “Laizy” Shapiro) as Uri, the soldier in charge. He has to cope with two left-wing activists from the Machsom Watch organization as he carries out the orders he has just been given to stop all passage through the checkpoint. Palestinian workers plead with him to be allowed to cross into Israel to get to their jobs, while the soldiers with him, Amir (Roi Assaf) and Andrei (Anton Ostrovsky), are not nearly as patient as he is with the activists. When an ambulance pulls up carrying a severely ill girl and her mother, and Uri can find no record of this ambulance’s license, things get really complicated. And, in spite of the brief running length, there are a couple of important twists.
The next film could not have been more different. Titled The Little Dictator, it was directed by Cohn’s sister, Nurith Cohn, and told the story of a meek professor played by Cohn who goes with his demanding wife and kids to a weekend at a hotel to celebrate the birthday of her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. The professor, whose specialty is the history of dictatorships, ends up looking like an infamous dictator, due to a shaving accident just as Shabbat begins, and must decide how to handle it. It’s hard to say too much about this one without giving away the most important moments in the plot, but it is both sad and funny. Cohn gives a wonderful performance as a nebbish who suddenly channels his inner dictator, but ultimately uses this power for good.
These two films sparked a lively discussion, as these professors asked questions and debated the security threat depicted in Barriers and the moral dilemma it posed, and the emotional and historical issues raised in The Little Dictator. The whole purpose of the program was crystallized in a comment one of the professors made about the situation in Barriers, “It looks simple from the outside, but you see that it’s not so simple.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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