If you ask Mindy Chriqui what she loves about Israel, she’ll reply without a moment’s hesitation: “The food, the sun, the sea, the people.”
Call it bias if you choose, but as the co-founder and artistic director of the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia, Chriqui would say that second to travel, the best way to experience the country’s culture would be to watch one of its many exemplary movies.
The Israeli Film Festival celebrated its 23rd season on March 16 with a sold-out screening of The Unorthodox at the Lightbox Film Center at the International House. Opening night was followed by yet another sold out screening of Echo at The Ritz East. Running through April 7, the Israeli Film Festival features nine films chosen from approximately 30 submissions, shown across six different theaters.
Since many conflate Israel with Judaism, Chriqui emphasized that as far as the festival is concerned: “We’re not Jewish. We’re Israeli.”
She continued: “That’s what helps our festival thrive is to be able to get films that focus on all the different aspects of life in Israel, Jewish or otherwise: Jewish, Druze, Bedouin, Christian, immigrants with all different backgrounds.”
While Israel defines itself as a Jewish state, the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia is not affiliated with the Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival. In its inception, the Israeli Film Festival was commissioned by the Israeli consulate in Philadelphia, which closed in 2016 due to financial reasons. The festival is currently under the auspices of the Israeli consulate in New York.
“For the most part, when I look at films, especially the films we have this season, it’s such a mosaic of what Israel is all about that when I think about it I’m kind of stunned,” said Chriqui, who studied at Tel Aviv University in Israel. “A lot of the films that focus on familial relationships and things like that, things that are very in the context of what we would call the everyday troubles.”
One of the movies still to be shown that Chriqui is excited about is In Her Footsteps, a documentary about a woman named Rana and her family who fled their Bedouin village and settled in a Jewish community. After moving to the town, Rana’s mother finds out she is dying from terminal breast cancer and wishes to be buried in the town’s Jewish cemetery, no small feat given the religious traditions of the area.
Winner of the Van Leer Award for Best Documentary Director at the Jerusalem Film Festival 2018 and the Best Feature Film at the 2018 Israeli Documentary Filmmakers Forum, In Her Footsteps will be screened on March 30 at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy (272 S. Bryn Mawr Ave, Bryn Mawr). The event will also include guest speaker Rana Abu Fraiha, the director and subject of the film.
Chriqui explained that they tried to focus a number of films this season on minority groups within Israel. The festival screened Cause of Death, a documentary by director Ramy A. Katz about the mystery surrounding a Druze police officer’s death after stopping a terrorist.
Even though Israel is a hot topic issue in the U.S., Chriqui said she has not felt much backlash to the festival over the years. However, the films chosen can be polemicizing on both sides of the aisle, since the committee selects films that are meant to both challenge and inspire.
“Our philosophy [is to] show a film if it’s good artistic content, meaning that sometimes politically it might not sit well with people, left or right,” explained Chriqui. “Our aim is to show the absolute best quality films that come out of the Israeli film industry, regardless of political or religious content.”
Out of the remaining films, two deal explicitly with the Jewish faith.
A Mirror For The Sun, running April 6, at Gratz College (7605 Old York Rd, Elkins Park) documents the Israeli Defense Forces’ first Jewish Orthodox combat navigator, Tamar Ariel. The festival then closes out April 7 at the Kimmel Center (300 S. Broad St) with The Other Story, a role reversal narrative where one ultra-Orthodox woman rebels for a secular life while another finds a stronger connection to her faith.
Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia | Now-April 6. $6-$15. Locations vary. iffphila.com/movie/the-other-story/