Thursday, April 22, 2010

The first sale!

Today, the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv ordered the film! It's our very first sale. Gila Cohen, the wonderful woman in charge of their film archive, told me she sat glued to her chair when she previewed the film and used the Hebrew yotze min haklal (exceptional) to describe it. I feel I can share this because it's the wonderful people in the film who make it what it is - Zoe, the beautiful fashion designer; Asher, the social worker who works with Ethiopian Israeli trauma victims (which includes just about everyone who came through Operation Moses); Mukat, the champion runner and Yuvi, the community activist who set up a core group of Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian Israelis to live together in the town of Gedera and help empower the local Ethiopian community from within. See more here; David Mihret, the educator; and many more -- it's their quiet dignity, their fascinating experiences and insights -- and I have to say -- their internal and external beauty that make the film.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My film -- These are my Names -- is done!

An invitation to you

Join me for the fun and – I hope – festivities – as I launch this baby into the world. I’m writing this blog because I can’t do that alone. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a worldwide community of friends and family and – here I am hoping again – some friendly strangers to get a film like this out there. So get in on the ground floor and follow along with me as the film makes its way in the world.

I’m also writing to tell anyone who has ever dreamed of making a film: You can do it. More on this below.

The film
These are my Names explores the experiences and identity conflicts of Ethiopian Jews in Israel through the prism of their original names -- names that carry a depth of meaning and connection that our names simply do not. The film is being released as I write. Click here to see a trailer.

The names
Turns out Ethiopian names are super cool. Unlike most of us residents of Earth, Ethiopians have many names. Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Smacho – everyone names the new baby. And each name carries a meaning and has a story behind it. In the film, we discover the meanings and hear the stories. We also find out that these precious names that connected the bearer to his village, family, his past and perhaps his future as well, were changed by well meaning but unaware officials as soon as the new immigrants’ feet touched the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport. (Well, some of them were changed by well-meaning but unaware kindergarten teachers.) These names changes were one more assault on the proud identity and rich heritage Ethiopian Jews brought with them to Israel.

The fall
Today, they’re not doing so well. These proud, committed people who once had a queen, who survived anti-Semitism, missionaries, droughts, famines and worse for thousands of years are having a hard time here in the land of their dreams. Before they came, when they longed to return to Zion, they literally thought the streets of Jerusalem were paved with gold. They thought every Israeli honored and kept the tradition, as they did. The shock of seeing Israeli Jews driving on Shabbat was only one of many assaults on their souls. Today, the crime, drug, school drop-out and under- and unemployment, and poverty rates are all higher than for the general population. More than a dozen women of Ethiopian origin have been murdered by their husbands – something unheard of in the Jewish communities of Ethiopia. There are many reasons for this and I can’t blame the name changes for the current reality. But the name changes were a reflection of an unwise absorption policy that didn’t give the kessim (rabbis) official recognition, split up extended families, gave out just enough mortgage money so people could afford a small apartment in slum neighborhoods, etc.

You can read more about Ethiopian Israelis here.
And I’ll write more about Ethiopian Israelis in future posts. For now, I’d like to get back to the film.

If I can make a movie, so can you
“Everyone has a film inside them.” So said a filmmaker I met years ago. If you have ever dreamed of making a movie, follow along with me. I knew nothing about making films when I started. I just had this passion. I had learned something inspiring and important and wanted others to hear it, too. While I’m a reporter, I knew an article wouldn’t do this subject justice. Besides, Ethiopian Jews are on the whole gorgeous. (I realize I’m generalizing.) And their bearing is dignified, even noble. That can’t come across in an article. Neither could the light in Aleli’s face when he told me the story of his name – a story that spanned three generations and taught me at least a dozen things about Jewish village life in Ethiopia.

After my inspiration (which I’ll write about in my next post) I hooked up with a neighbor, Naomi Altaraz who makes short films for community TV in Baka, our Jerusalem neighborhood. She had the shooting and editing skills and the time and patience to see this project through. And she was willing to wait to get paid until I raised money.

So get in on the ground floor with me. My task now is to launch the movie. I have a well regarded distributor, Ruth Diskin but I want to put energy into this as well. So for starters, if you have ideas for places that might want to screen it – a funky movie theater that shows ethnic documentaries, an ethnic cafĂ©, a synagogue, church, community center, inner city youth club, retirement home, Jewish women’s group, local film festival, etc. please let me know. (Ruth Diskin will submit it to Jewish film festivals.)