ISRAEL, UK / 1985 / Hebrew / Color/ 35mm (1:1.66) / 97 min

Director, Producer: Amos Gitai
Amos Gitai, Stephane Levine
Photography: Henri Alekan, Nurith Aviv
Sheherazade Saadi
Production Design: Richard Ingersoll
Cast: Simona Benyamini, Mohammed Bakri, Juliano Merr
Production Company: AGAV FILMS
37 Rashi Street, Tel Aviv 63265, ISRAEL
Phone / Fax: 972-3-5255971
Source: Israel Film Archive

Amos Gitai

Born 1950 in Haifa, Israel. Studied architecture from 1971 at the Israel Institute of Technology, around when he started to make experimental 8mm films. In 1977 he began making documentaries for Israeli television. After Field Diary (1982), shot shortly after the Lebanon war, met with much hostility in his country, Gitai moved to Paris where he would live for 10 years. His documentary films include Labor for Sale (1984) which concerns immigrant laborers in South-East Asia, Brand New Day (1987) which follows the Eurythmics' Revenge Tour in Japan, and A House in Jerusalem (1998), which focuses on the complex history of one house in Jerusalem as a microcosm of the complex relations between Jews and Palestinians. In 1985 Gitai directed his first narrative feature Esther, which was followed by Berlin-Jerusalem (1989) and then Golem-The Spirit of the Exile (1991) to form his ' ' Trilogy of the exile.'' In 1993 Gitai returned to Israel. His latest fiction feature film Kaddosh (1999) was selected for competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and will be screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival 1999.

Amos Gitai's first work of fiction after leaving Israel and moving to Paris is a filmed version of the "Book of Esther" from the Old Testament. However, its more of a cinematic interpretation than a film adaptation. The Biblical text is spoken, for instance, in modern Hebrew and the film is visualized as an immense tableau-vivant inspired by Persian miniatures. Master French cinematographer Henri Alekan is responsible for the stunning images. Religiously speaking, visualizing biblical text is forbidden as idolization. The principal locations are in Israel near Haifa: Wadi Salib, a dense Arab quarter until Israeli independence, then a Moroccan Jewish settlement in the 50s before being destroyed by a riot; and Akko, a port town where the Crusaders of the middle-ages first landed in Palestine and prospered under the Ottoman regime. So the biblical story of Jewish exiles is told by Jewish and Arab actors at a crossroads of three civilizations that each revere The Old Testament (Jewish, Christian, and Islamic), and where the contradictions of 20th century Diaspora and immigrations have in the past exploded into violent conflict.

Juror's Statement
Documentary is like an archaeological digging. You have to dig, and layer by layer, you see the parameters of the subject. When I made Pineapples ("Ananas," 1984), I looked at the label of a can of pineapples, and it said "Produced in the Philippines. Packaged in Honolulu. Distributed in San Francisco," and at one corner, it said "Printed in Japan." I sent this label to my producer and said, "This is the screenplay, now all you have to do is to give us five plane tickets, and I'll tell you something about multinational corporations, the third world, and the relations between countries at this end of the twentieth century."
Filmmakers are doing much to exoticize their own cultures. They portray them only with local cuisine and traditional dress. But after all, in Tokyo, in Tel Aviv, Amman, Cairo or New York, people dress in similar ways, and watch the same TV programs (unfortunately!) The role of the cinema becomes the counter-weight to the media: to give us a more precise sense of the personalities of societies, not the caricatured images that the media gives us. I am always touched by filmmakers who have the courage to be critical about their own societies. It's one of the most complex things one can do and it's sometimes even painful. Being critical doesn't mean you want to erase it or ignore the necessity of continuation. Every culture, in each generation, needs to re-invent and re-evaluate itself.
A filmmaker's ethics are very delicate, and especially so in documentary because the people you film are not hired as actors. In a way, you enter into an unwritten contract between yourself and the people you film. Sometimes you want to ask questions, but since we are shy people it's not polite to ask. If you have a camera it's a way to legitimize asking! Unfortunately, documentary today is too much dominated by reportage style, with voice-overs that tell you everything that you have to know.
Cinema is a medium of communicating and you can disturb or stir-up people with it. It's the medium of the twentieth century, and we really have to be careful not to diminish it to just so much hamburger. It's a great gift that is given to us fimmakers so we have to preserve it.

COPYRIGHT:Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival Organizing Committee