Synopsis of Fall 2015 Films

Published online in The Ithaca Voice, August 31, 2015 with a note from the editor, Jeff Stein: The following column was submitted by Ithacan Neil Hertz, who has been involved in the Olive Branch Film Series project.

Ithaca film series to document Palestinian life

August 31, 2015

ITHACA, N.Y. — Encouraged by the turnout for its screening of Lia Tarachansky’s “By the Side of the Road” last May, Ithaca’s Olive Branch Film Series, in cooperation with Cinemapolis, has lined up a set of contemporary dramas and documentaries focusing on the complex realities of Palestinian life.

The seemingly unending struggles in the Holy Land have produced, along with a lot of misery and occasional sparks of hope, a remarkable flourishing of cinematic art. Over the next several months, Olive Branch Film Series will bring to town some of the best of that work, by Palestinian and Israeli as well as foreign directors.

The fall series begins next Wednesday September 16, with Amer Shomali’s and Paul Cowan’s The Wanted 18, “a tale of talking cows and Palestinian rebellion.” Produced in a combination of claymation and live documentary interviews, the film recounts the serio-comic story of how a small dairy herd, purchased by a Palestinian committee during the First Intifada, became “the wanted 18,” their presence needing to be concealed from the Israeli authorities, who had declared them a security risk. Since its 2014 premiere in Toronto, it has been named Best Documentary at festivals in Abu Dhabi, Carthage, and Traverse City, Michigan.

The Wanted 18 will be followed, on Wednesday October 7, by Michel Khleifi’s classic Wedding in Galilee. The first major film to be made by an Israeli Arab, it tells of the difficulties encountered by a fond father planning a lavish wedding for his son in a village governed by the Israeli military. Hailed for its nuanced representation of both Palestinian and Israeli characters, and for its depiction of women’s lives in a village society, it won the 1987 International Critics’ Prize at Cannes.

Three weeks later, on Wednesday October 28, the documentary Jaffa, The Orange’s Clockwork, will be screened. The work of the Israeli director Eyal Sivan, the film is at once a history of the cultivation and export of the world-famous Jaffa oranges and the coordinate history of the fruit’s branding, first as a symbol of the sunny Levant, grown and shipped by Palestinian workers, then, after 1948, as a product—and icon—of the Zionists’ investment in the redemption of the literal soil of Palestine. Sivan’s amalgam of archival black-and-white footage, his interviews with historians as well as with Palestinian and Israeli growers. and his lavish display of posters and paintings celebrating the fruit won his film the prize as Best Documentary by the International Jury at Milan in 2009.

Olive Branch Film’s fourth fall offering, on Wednesday November 18, is Private, a taut psychological drama, from the Italian director Saverio Costanza, which won the Golden Leopard award for Best Film at the 2004 Locarno Festival. The isolated country house of a Palestinian family, located near an Israeli settlement, is commandeered by an Israeli platoon for use as a strategic lookout post. The popular Palestinian actor Mohammad Bakri plays the house’s owner, who refuses to leave his home and obliges his family to submit to being confined to the ground floor while some bored young soldiers take over the upstairs rooms. Under the strong West Bank sunlight, the drama unfolds as a noir nail-biter, as tensions build up within the family but also among the Israeli soldiers themselves. Economically, even claustrophobically, filmed, Private comes across as a powerful distillation of the costs of the Occupation.

The last of this fall’s offerings, The Inner Tour (2001) will be shown Wednesday, December 9. An early film of Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s, better known for 2011 study of the Israeli military courts (The Law in These Parts), The Inner Tour follows a group of Palestinian families from the Occupied Territories on a three-day official Israeli sightseeing tour through a land they had fled or been expelled from in 1948 or 1967. Their responses to their exposure to this changed landscape offer a subdued but poignant commentary on what has come to be called “The Situation” in Israel/Palestine.

All films will be screened at Cinemapolis one time only, Wednesday evenings at 7:15, and tickets will be priced as they would be for other Cinemapolis shows.

Neil Hertz (, 607.793.4669)

See the original article in The Ithaca Voice: