Israel: A Home Movie

Israel: A Home Movie

Eric Goldman writes and teaches about Jewish cinema. He is president of Ergo Media, a distributor of Jewish, Yiddish and Israeli film.

Home movie footage of Israeli military vehicles passing the reviewing stand. Alma Films

For me, having visited Israel more times than I can count and spent my youth in the Zionist movement Young Judaea, screening Eliav Lilti’s film, “Israel: A Home Movie,” was just a continuation of my education and ongoing edification.

For many of us, our special connection with Israel goes back to the earliest images of pioneers, the chalutzim, working the land, breaking up rocks to create farmland in the Galilee or draining the Hula swamps. If that was not part of your Israel visual literacy, then maybe watching Jews forced out of the Old City of Jerusalem in Thorold Dickinson’s 1955 “Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer” was.

Or how about seeing Paul Newman as Ari Ben-Canaan on a ship in Otto Preminger’s 1960 “Exodus,” holding the British Empire at bay? Could it have been seeing Kirk Douglas as David “Mickey” Marcus in Melville Shavelson’s 1966 “Cast A Giant Shadow,” leading the army of Israel in breaking the 1948 siege of Jerusalem? Whichever was your Israel movie moment, and whether you saw these films in the theater, on television, or on DVD, these were defining images for many American Jews. Now, Lilti has collected home movies, shot by unidentified people, of Israel’s earliest years, to provide a unique and very different visual study.

What filmmaker Lilti has done is present us with a different perspective on Israel. We see day-to-day life through the home movies of several families. We see daily life, festivities, rites of passage, vacations, and simple cute or odd moments caught on camera and woven together by the moviemaker to offer an unusual and personal visual interpretation of Israeli life and society. Lilti pulls together home movie footage from the 1930s and 1940s, when Jews were fleeing to Palestine in search of refuge. He captures the rising tensions between Jews and Arabs and unique moments from the 1948 War of Liberation. We become personal witnesses to the mass absorption of Jewish immigrants in the 1950s, the euphoria of a post-Six Day War population, the complex Yom Kippur War, the settlement movement, and Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Israel. What is special is that except for a very few shots of celebrities, this is a visual history of the everyday people of Israel, some from well-known families and others not, put on film by family observers and visual interpreters. These family members chose what they wanted to preserve on film and it was simply left for Lilti and his crew of editors to compile the material and let it, the film footage, tell the story.

“Israel: A Home Movie” is neither a newsreel or documentary film, but a tapestry of images woven together by a group of master film weavers under Eliav Lilti’s direction. It offers no political message, but instead wishes to convey visually the story of a people and its unique connection with a land. It is a special collage of home movies from the Jewish homeland, certainly worth watching and contemplating.

The film opens on July 10 at the Film Forum in New York and will play there for one week.

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