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Cooperation? In Jerusalem? It must be...

by josh November 18 2008
ArtFilmMusicNewsPhotographyPop culture
Agripas 12
I once drew a picture this big

Yes, it's the artists. In fact, Jerusalem does not want for lack of institutions that cater toward artists. Ever since Boris Schatz started sculpting old ladies and founded the Bezalel School of Art and Design, the city has been rife with galleries, academies, musicians, poets and starving artistes all dedicated to "the scene." Now, a new project is being formulated to turn that scene into more of a community of artistic minded Jerusalemites. Ruach Chadasha, a student rights organization founded by next mayor Nir Barkat, recently gathered together movers and shakers of the Jerusalem arts movement to lay the groundwork for the communities.

The meeting took place at Agripas 12, a gallery well known for fostering cooperation between the various artistic institutions in the city. Among the cognoscenti there were Avi Sabag of the Musrara school and members of the Zik, Koresh and Hagagit groups. Maya Felixbrodt, director of young artists for Ruach Chadasha said she had been approached by many others about working with them to create the community, which is meant to made up of those already out of school who want to remain in Jerusalem. "We mean to give them some framework to go and create together and to give to Jerusalem as artists," she said. The community is meant to be something completely open to the participants' choosing, meaning they or may not live together and create together and eat together and work together. Basically, it may be about as communal as a privatized "kibbutz."

Though Thursday night brought cold and rain over 20 interested artists crwoded into the gallery to hear what would be going on and get in on the ground floor. Felixbrodt said she wasn't sure what Barkat's victory would mean for the project, but hoped it would translate into more support from city hall, though she said the project would go ahead no matter what happens.

Of course, this effort is far from being the first to try and bring artists together to create in Jerusalem. Chutzot Hayotzer (the artists colony right outside the old city, not the related festival) touts itself as being one such place, though its fine arts showcases have more of a commercial tilt. The Jerusalem Artists House also brings artists together under one roof, though it is more a gallery than a community effort. Plus nobody even lives in the house. In September, Jerusalem was the home to Lift-Off, the first, possibly annual, installment of an event that sought to bring together over 100 artists to display their work in a number of venues throughout the city. And there's always artsy tchochkes and expensive Judaica available at Ben Yehuda and the Cardo. In short, art did not leave Jerusalem with the original Bezalel.

If you're interested in joining the movement, you can contact Ruach Chadasha. Or if war-torn, biblical tinged, or scary Tim Burtonesque art isn’t your cup of tea, you can always book it for one of the thousands of artists communities already up and running all over this big ol' artsy world.

Photo of the artsy summit courtesy of Ruach Chadasha.
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A conversation with Laizy Shapira, Srugim director

by ben September 14 2008

Srugim's Laizy Shapira

Laizy Shapira, 32, spent his childhood in Philadelphia, where his father served as a shaliach of the Jewish Agency. After moving back to Karnei Shomron, he served in a Hesder program for yeshiva studies combined with IDF service. Shapira graduated from Jerusalem's Ma'ale School of Television, Film and the Arts, the only communications production program in the country targeted towards observant Jews, when he was in his late 20s.

Professional doors began to open for Shapira in the years that followed, largely thanks to acclaim he received for two of his student projects, Eicha and Saving Private Finklestein, but he soon found himself struggling, with day jobs cleaning houses and giving tours at the Kotel Tunnels and at the Davidson Archeological Park. But an association with producer Yonatan Aroch eventually landed Shapira a deal to co-create, co-write (with long-time collaborator Chava Divon) and direct Srugim (literally, "knitted"), a surprise hit for Yes TV.

The show, which focuses on the lives of five central 30-something religious Jerusalemite bachelor and bachelorettes in a manner that is refreshing and clever, has taken Israeli pop culture by storm. When not attending screenings of episodes at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, Shapira is working on plans to hopefully export a translated version of the show to North America and to possibly air Season One on Israel's Channel 2 this winter – all while developing ideas for Season Two, which should air by the end of 2009.

It seems like Jerusalem is such a presence in the show that it's almost a character. How would you describe the city's special role in the series? Both me and Chava really love this city and wanted to show its beauty. People always say there's something different about Jerusalem – that it's so friendly and laid back. The holiness is part of it. Jerusalem has more simplicity, less pretension and a lot of beauty. From Srugim

I'm glad we were able to shoot the first season in the winter, with the soft light on the stones. We were in The Valley of the Cross in November, and I saw the leaves changing colors, which I had never noticed really happening before, and the church was in the background. It was so different – like out of a European movie.

There's something very Jerusalemite about the sweaters and scarves - something about Jerusalem's character, even in the weather, that reflects in people's personae, all huddled up.

How did your experiences at Ma'ale bring you to where you are in your career now? Ma'ale was a good atmosphere for me to be in while I was there. It was very supportive.

There are two distinct religious dating scenes in Jerusalem: the sabras and the English speakers. Jerusalem is known as a hotbed for English-speaking immigrants, yet aside from the young woman who was willing to lend her tefillin in the first episode, there haven't been any English-speaking characters in the show. Was that a conscious decision? It was. I can't promise anything, but I really want to try to do it in the second season.

I think it's a format thing. We didn't want to confuse people.  There are so many different [singles] scenes, within the German Colony, Nachlaot, etc., but we wanted to establish what we did with the characters first.

I didn't think the Anglos would identify with the show. It's kind of a different world. But they love it! I ended up at a shabbat meal with English speakers recently, and they were.... (click here for the full interview).

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This week in Jerusalem

by michael September 04 2008
This week in JerusalemArtFilmThings to do
My Sweet Husband and My Dear Wife
All gussied up for My Sweet Husband and My Dear Wife

Welcome to September, kids. You can't wear white anymore, but you can make yourself feel better about the arbitrary sartorial cruelties of the approaching fall by reminding yourself that September is one of the best months to be in Jerusalem. The weather begins to ease off a little, and with both the Jewish High Holidays and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan taking place at the same time this year, the entire city takes on a buzz of impending celebration. So join in by taking in all Jerusalem has to offer this week:

  • Speaking of intoxication, if nostalgic hippies don't do it for you, try "Sensation of Intoxication," a concert/poetry reading/whatever tonight at Makom L'Shira.
  • If you prefer your music to be original, don't miss hip-hop outfit Coolooloosh at Beit Avi Chai, also on Saturday night.
  • How often do you get to hear flamenco in Jerusalem? Swing by the back-from-summer-break Yellow Submarine Tuesday for Estampa Flamenca, Jerusalem's very own ambassadors of that romantic Spanish music.
And that ain't all - see the full listings for the week in the Jerusalemite Events section. Have a restful weekend.
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Jerusalem of celluloid

by michael August 29 2008
Movie lovers cram together at the Jerusalem Film Festival

With the summer excitement of the Jerusalem Film Festival long past, movie fanatics in the city have to look elsewhere for their fix of cinematic magic - and the situation on the ground isn't always encouraging. Jerusalemites love movies (thus the perennial success of the Film Fest), but the number of decent venues in which to see them is on the wane. All of downtown's theaters have been long boarded up. The main first-run theaters, the Rav Chen out in Talpiot and the Globus Theater even further out in Malcha, are thinly-staffed, cramped, ill-equipped and magnets for the worst kind of cinema-goer. If it weren't for the sophisticated offerings of the Cinematheque and the left-field indie flicks screened at the Lev Smadar, local film buffs might just have to - perish the thought - descend to Tel Aviv for decent flicks on decent screens with decent sound.

Even the Jerusalem Post has taken note of the state of affairs, devoting a whole article to the local cinema scene:

The truth is that, with a few sparkling exceptions, movie-going in the holy city has become a thoroughly unpleasant business. As a movie critic, I go to more movies than most people, and I regret that there are fewer theaters today than ever, as each and every theater in the downtown area has closed.

Remember the Edison? The Eden? The Ron and Or-Gil off Rehov Hillel? The Kfir? Those and so many others are just a distant memory. It's a worldwide trend these days: Downtowns are dying all over the place as consumers shop in malls, where the multiplexes tend to get only the biggest budget, mainstream films. 

Particularly harsh rhetoric is aimed at the Globus Theater in Malcha:

There are rarely more than two ticket-sellers on duty, so the lines get huge.

If you arrive five minutes before a show, you will be lucky to see the beginning of the movie (in spite of the 10 or so minutes of ads and trailers before each film). The theaters get filthy very quickly[...]

A huge percentage of the audience, at any time of day, consists of teens, and we know teens will be teens, but both older and younger audiences have been driven out. A friend of mine left recently when a fist fight broke out in the row in front of him. Another friend reports that a boy dumped a full cup of cola over her young son's head during a movie.

If you go to this theater, you undoubtedly have your own stories. No one turns off their cell phones, of course, so you often have to strain to hear. And if you choose to see the last show of the night, when the film ends, you will find most of the mall's doors locked and no staff on duty to direct you to the one or two exits that are still open.

The exits that are open may not be anywhere near where you parked, so you may find yourself wandering through the parking lots, an especially nerve-wracking situation for women alone at night[...]

Israelis are notorious for their willingness to embrace mediocrity in certain areas, but there is hope for those who want to see big-name movies in civilized theaters. The Tel Aviv area has seen several American-style multiplexes open in recent years, and market forces being what they are, they'll inevitably migrate to Jerusalem and force out dinosaurs like Globus (although people will still leave their cell phones on). And in the meantime, the Cinematheque and the Smadar should keep you going.

Image courtesy of the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

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This week in Jerusalem

by michael August 21 2008
This week in JerusalemFilmFoodFor the kidsSportsThings to do
Not Stomp at all.
Like Stomp, but Israeli: the Jerusalem Theatre's end of summer party

As the high holidays become visible on the horizon (they're closer than it seems), summer festival season continues in earnest in the city, with Jerusalemites trying to cram in as much freewheeling good times as possible before the rigor of days of rest and days of fasting. Weather aside, it's a good time to be out and about, because, as it so happens, there will be beer...

  •  X chromosomes go wild at Zimrat Isha, a one-night women-only mini-festival of religiously-inclined music tonight way out in the wilds of Har Nof.
  • If you want to sing in classic old-school Israeli fashion - that is, in a large group and in homage to greatness of the Land of Israel - head down to Mamilla tonight for the first session of Singing in Mamilla, a Municipality series of public singalong concerts.
  • If you haven't been to Chutzot HaYotzer yet, Saturday night is your last chance 'til next year.
  • Help the children learn about the magic of puppets with Quick Goose, a sort of meta-puppet production at the always reliable Train Theater.
  • And all that was only a lead-up: the real fun this week begins Wednesday night when the Jerusalem Beer Festival opens its gates. Barrels of good beer, live music, fascinating demonstrations and, uh...barrels of good beer. More on that later this week. 
Not enough? Nonsense. But if you want to see more, here's everything that's going down in the city this week, courtesy of the Jerusalemite Events section. You best have fun out there.
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A conversation with Matthew Kalman, filmmaker

by simone August 03 2008
InterviewFilmPop culture

Matthew Kalman, Director

Israeli humor is hot these days, and Matthew Kalman, co-director (with David Blumenfeld) of Circumcise Me, a comic documentary starring Yisrael Campbell, is at the forefront of this trend. The film, which traces the life of Campbell, a Catholic boy turned Jewish comedian, is currently doing the film festival circuit, and in the near future, the directors hope to hold weekly showings at Jerusalem's Lev Smadar Cinema, which hosted the film's Israeli premier on July 3.

Can I get a brief genesis on the history of this movie ands how you got involved? I'm a reporter, and David [Blumenfeld] is a photographer, and we've been working together here in Israel for the last 10 years. A few years ago, we started doing a lot of documentary work. It was all about suicide bombers, the intifada, guys with masks, and it got grueling after a while. One day, we'd just finished interviewing a 16-year-old who wanted to blow himself up but was caught at a checkpoint before he made it to his destination. We went to interview him in jail, and on the way back, David said to me, "We've got to do something fun, something for ourselves." That night, I went to the opening of the Off the Wall Comedy Empire. I heard Yisrael Campbell perform his act, and I said to myself, "We've got our subject."

How did your past experiences in journalism influence this project? How did you find the transition from print journalist to documentary filmmaker? The thing about print journalism is that you have very little control over what actually appears in print. You don't choose the headline; you don't make the final editing decisions. There are many times where I'll focus on one thing and something else entirely will appear in the published version. Here, with this documentary, we have complete control over what actually appears on the screen. So it's much more creative. But it's also a much greater responsibility. When I write for a paper, I get up, do my work and then come home and turn on Seinfeld and it's no longer my responsibility. Here, David and I are completely responsible for how Yisrael is perceived by the world.

Yisrael Campbell's comedy is a major selling point, but his back story is also key to what you did with the movie. What kind of balance between profile and concert document were you trying to strikYisrael Campbell, Circumcise Me e? This was a really easy film to make, because Yisrael is really funny, he's really talented, he already has a show, so all we really had to do was film him. What we wanted to do with this project is take his show, which has been performed to numerous audiences here in Israel, and make it accessible to people elsewhere, and not just to Jewish audiences but to a wide range of people. We had to explain the contexts in Campbell's show and take out the parts that had too much Hebrew (which meant removing some of the funniest parts of the show). We also wanted to tell as much as possible of Campbell's back-story using very elementary documentary techniques. For example, Yisrael's father only has a few lines but they are all about very transitional points in Yisrael's life and they help move the story along.

Finally, we want to show people who don't live here what this place is like, so we filmed Yisrael driving along the security wall and visiting the Hebrew University, so that people can visualize the places he refers to. At one point, you see him at the café where his friends were blown up. For me, that's the emotional.... (click here for the full interview).
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This week in Jerusalem

by michael July 24 2008
This week in JerusalemArtFilmFor the kidsPhotographyThings to do
The photography of Gustavo Sagorsky, now at the Jerusalem Artists House

Summer festival season has wound down, and the citywide High Holidays bashes are still a couple months off, but don't mistake this for the doldrums: even during the hottest days of a hot summer, Jerusalem and her many fine institutions continue to offer more culture than a Tel Avivi could shake an unearned sense of superiority at. Dig:

  • Comedian Nadav Bosem and uni-monikered singer Rili are mounting a comedic/musical tribute to the popular Israeli entertainers of the '50s and '60s tonight at Beit Shmuel.
  • Take the kids to the Israel Museum Sunday for a taste of what childhood was like in the austerity-stricken early days of the country with a hands-on exhibit of bygone childhood pursuits. Maybe they'll appreciate their lives more afterwards?
  • Give yourself a little grounding in pressing international affairs Monday by attending Foreign Ministry official Menashe Amir's lecture on the Iranian people at the Hebrew University.
  • Wrap yourself in the warm, if sometimes limiting embrace of the Jerusalem Anglo community at Mike's Place Tuesday night for some musical democracy in action: a freestyle, take-all-comers jam session. Bring your axe, as long as you like guitar rock and Shlomo Carlebach niggunim.
And as always, there's plenty more to do, and you'll find it all in the Jerusalemite Events Section. Click here for a full listing of the week's events.

Image of Gustavo Sagorsky's photography courtesy of the Jerusalem Artists House.
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A conversation with Ilan de-Vries, Jerusalem Film Festival director

by simone July 16 2008
InterviewFilmThings to do

Ilan de Vries

The Jerusalem International Film Festival is celebrating its 25th year under the auspices of a new general director, Ilan de-Vries, former deputy director under festival founder Lia Van Leer. Mr. de-Vries took time from his busy schedule to speak with Jerusalemite about the festival and Jerusalem's cultural scene.

Please give us some background on the festival. How did it begin and how has it developed since? The Festival began in 1982 as the brain-child of Lia Van Leer and Dina Eldor and backed by the Jerusalem Foundation, which was headed at that time by Teddy Kollek. The festival began with 50 films. It was very small. There were few guests and virtually no Israeli cinema, because there wasn't much Israeli cinema in general at that time. Since then, the Festival has grown each year, attracting more famous guests such as Jane Fonda, Roberto Benigni and Alan Arkin. In addition to films made in the past year or two, we began showing archive films as well and created a special category, "In the Spirit of Freedom," which features films dealing with issues of human rights, democracy and tolerance. There is a large prize, courtesy of the Nathan Cummings Foundation for this category.

This year we're celebrating our 25th anniversary. The festival has really grown in its 25 years. This year we have 100 films from over 30 countries, including films from some Arab countries including Jordan. We don't often get films from the Arab world because of the political situation.

How did you personally become involved in the Festival? When the Cinematheque opened in 1981, I served as Ms. Van Leer's deputy and was very involved with the Film Festival in its early years. After nine years at the Cinematheque I left to work at Channel 2 and then Mishkenot Sha'ananim before returning to the Film Festival this year.

Has your audience changed at all in the 25 years of festival operations? While the audience has changed to some degree, there is a core group of loyal viewers that come every year. These people continue to come from across the country because they see the best of cinema there and they like the festival's atmosphere. The Cinematheque currently has 7,000 members, and these members make up the core audience. Jerusalem of course has changed in the 25 years since the festival began. It no longer has the same demographic.... (click here for the full interview)
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Moonlight Cinema at the Old Train Station

by michael July 14 2008
Things to doFilm

The Band's Visit

It ain't easy being culturally active. You have to keep your ear to the ground. You have to stay abreast of events listings. You have to make difficult decisions: do you see a band, or a film? Wouldn't it be better, you've doubtless asked yourself, if you could see both at the same time (and perhaps not have to pay either)?

Sounds like you need some Moonlight Cinema.

Part of the ongoing Film Festival, Moonlight Cinema is three consecutive nights of free musical performances at the Old Train Station followed by free screenings of Israeli movies, each one definitely worth seeing.

It starts tonight with HaTavlinim playing a set before, appropriately enough, The Band's Visit (pictured), an ecstatically received (and quite excellent) 2007 Israeli production about an Egyptian police band slated to play at the opening of an Arab cultural center in Petach Tikva who, via some linguistic difficulties, wind up in a forgotten Negev development town. Veteran actors Sasson Gabai and Ronit Elkabetz are in fine form as the leads, but the show is stolen by up-and-coming Palestinian uber-hottie Saleh Bakri as a wistful skirt-chaser who just wants to find an Israeli girl with whom he can talk about Chet Baker. The dialogue is mostly in English; the only reason Beaufort represented Israel at the Oscars rather than this feature. Hebrew and Arabic dialogue will be subtitled.

Tomorrow, dig on the sounds of Yali Sobol, then get caught up in a full-on blast from the past with Shablul, the zany film debut of the massively popular late '60s comedy/variety troupe "Lool," from which sprang pop star/actor Arik Einstein and actor/comic Uri Zohar. The film is not subtitled, but frankly, if you're not either Israeli or very invested in Israeli culture, Einstein and Zohar's shenanigans might not make much sense even if it were.

Wednesday's proceedings are kicked off by Malkat HaPlakat, and carry on with Jellyfish, the debut directorial effort of Israeli literary superstar Etgar Keret. Jerusalemite hasn't seen this one, but if it manages to transfer to the screen Keret's rapier wit and sharp social eye, it should be a can't-miss.

Shows on all three nights start at 20:00, and there is a maximum capacity of 2,000 persons, so you may want to come early to ensure a place. And with those lovely Jerusalem summer night breezes coming up from the valleys, you might want to bring a layer of some kind. Jerusalemite's coverage of the Jerusalem Film Festival continues later this week.

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This week in Jerusalem

by michael July 10 2008
This week in JerusalemArtFilmFoodFor the kidsThings to do
Nothing improves a sculpture garden like the ol' coffin varnish

This week in Jerusalem? Well, it's like any other week in Jerusalem, save two major differences: the booze flows freer and the movies are less lowest-common-denominator. So pour out your 10-shekel Hebron Vineyards "wine" and spit symbolically in the direction of the cramped seats and terrible screens at the Rav Chen, because this week is all about the Jerusalem Wine Festival and the Jerusalem Film Festival.

  • The Film Festival starts today and lasts well into next week, ten whole days in which Jerusalem's cinemas give their screens over to the artsy, indie and well-regarded. Of course, Jerusalemite will be keeping you updated on the best of the Fest throughout the week, so stay tuned.
  • And since this week is devoted to appreciating the refined and sublime, you may as well kick it off tonight with that most refined and sublime of musics: jazz. Well-regarded Israeli jazz songstress Hagit Goldberg and her band are putting a bit of the devil in all those nice Mormon boys and girls at Brigham Young University - and like any great temptation, it's free.
  • If the blue notes and suspended ninths of jazz don't move you - if indeed your heart pulses to a more robotic sort of groove - don't fail to hie your cyborg self down to the Yellow Submarine for a night of electro by a deeply-stacked lineup of Jerusalem's finest electronic music artists.
  • On Friday morning, get a firsthand look at the oft-overlooked history of one of Jerusalem's most interesting neighborhoods: Mamilla. It's not just a ritzy mall and an empty luxury neighborhood - once, the wedge of city tucked between downtown and the Old City was a literal war zone. Find out more by joining up with the Tower of David Museum's tour group.
  • If you've got bored kids between the ages of 3 and 7 in need of entertainment on Saturday - and if there's anything reliable about kids between 3 and 7, it's their constant need for entertainment - see how they like The Marzipan Fairy, another puppet production from the Train Theater. Alternately, if you or your kids are kind of unnerved by the Train Theater's leering wooden puppets (and who could blame you?), take them to Beit Shmuel for a whole day of old-school Israeli arts, crafts and activities.
  • On Sunday Brigham Young University offers another tantalizingly free opportunity to see one of the acclaimed Arab classical musicians the Galilee keeps pumping out, in this case Nazareth piano prodigy Bishara Harouny.
  • Swing by the Israel Museum on Monday (or any other day during the month) to peruse a display of landscapes rendered entirely from recycled waste. On (recycled) paper, it's a children's event, but adults - especially the eco-conscious - should find plenty to appreciate.
  • The Wine Festival starts tapping the barrels on Tuesday evening (and runs through Thursday evening). 55 NIS gets you entry and a bottomless wine glass, with over thirty Israeli wineries clamoring for the opportunity to fill it for you. Let them. Sweet Lord, let them.
  • If you can get over that terrible red wine hangover you'll no doubt be nursing after you wake up facedown somewhere around the Wohl Rose Garden midday Wednesday, stumble over to the Bible Lands Museum to hear an English lecture delivered by the engaging Professor Wayne Horowitz of the Hebrew University. The subject? Cuneiform. It's supposed to be "exhilarating," which is asking a lot from inscrutable little triangles.

And all of you remember, oenophiles and undiscerning quaffers alike: drinking and driving anywhere is a bad idea. With Israeli drivers, it's suicide. So take a cab home, because we want to see you here next week.

Photo courtesy of Orly Segal Communications.

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