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Israel’s female filmmakers get big boost with ‘Women in the Picture’

Posted By ISRAEL21c Staff On November 18, 2007 @ 9:40 am In | No Comments

“Old coding doesn’t interest us,” said Anat Shperling-Cohen, co-founder and director of the non-profit association Women in the Picture. “Women have a point of view you don’t usually see in commercial films.”

Still on a high from the success of this year’s International Women’s Film Festival in Rehovot in September, Shperling-Cohen took time out to talk to ISRAEL21c about the association, whose goal is to promote women’s films and Israeli films and TV creators.

Established four years ago by Shperling-Cohen and Naama Prizant Orpaz, both passionate about redressing the lack of a women’s voice and opportunity of expression on the screen, it is well on its way to opening new doors for talented Israeli women.

Through the Women’s International Film Festival, Women in the Picture gives Israelis an opportunity to see quality films directed by women from other countries, as well as Israel. It also gives small monetary awards and recognition to the best films directed and produced by Israeli women.

“What we are trying to achieve is not what we see in our culture, which is male-dominated,” said Shperling-Cohen, a curly-red head. She was a filmmaker, herself, before she decided to take on the challenging mission of founding WIP.

The International Women’s Film Festival, the association’s signature event, features films that deal with a variety of issues – among them, family, motherhood, violence.

“A film will not be selected for screening just because a woman is the director. The film has to have an obvious new authentic women’s point-of-view,” Shperling told ISRAEL21c. “We want to open the eyes of the audience to the situation of a woman, the world as women perceive it.”

Thinking out of the box, the founders of Women in the Picture, looked for a locale for their activities. “We wanted it in the periphery, not in major cities like Haifa, Tel Aviv, or Jerusalem which already had film festivals,” said Shperling-Cohen, who lives on a small moshav near Gedera.

“The first person I turned to was the mayor of Rehovot [Shuki Forer]. He liked the idea and offered support.”

Already the home of the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Hebrew University Faculty of Agriculture and Environmental Science, and a sprawling high tech science park, Rehovot was ripe to be also branded as the city of culture as well as science, and Forer jumped at the initiative to support women artists. Eventually, the Women’s International Film Festival also got significant support from the Israel Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport, the National Lottery, and the European Union.

Sixty films were screened at this year’s festival; 30 from abroad, and 30 from Israel.

“We are very serious about our work. We don’t compromise on the quality of the films,” said Shperling-Cohen. “The process of selecting films for screening takes months.”

The program included riveting films by successful international women directors. An honored guest, Dorota Kedzierzawska, the leading Polish director, answered questions about the retrospective screening of her work, understated with hypnotic visual images.

Israelis had a chance to see her film Nothing, based on the true story of a young woman, trapped in a marriage of unrequited love and motherhood, who finds herself in court accused of the murder of her baby.

Complex, turbulent, exciting, and distressing, a potpourri of many cultures, Israel is a fascinating landscape for film creation. In Stone Flower, a humorous and poignant documentary, 30-year old director Sarit Haymian zooms in on two aging friends, Persian in background. One woman was married to an abusive man, and yet when he became ill, took two buses a day to be with him in a nursing home. The other woman’s marriage was a shiduch (arranged match) that warmed into love and respect. The single director grapples with the undercurrent values in marriage, in an effort to see if she can avoid losing her “self” identity in the process.

A tough gal rules a Russian gang on the street, the focus of a 22-minute video by Alla Sheraeir called Stain. Gang leader, Olia, makes 15-year old Sasha, pay the price (rape) for falling in love with the wrong boy. The film tied for first prize in the Festival.

Bezalel Academy of Art and Design graduate, Osi Wald, was the other first-prize winner. Her creative animated film Pause uses Modigliani-like figures, and wonderful symbolic images. Granddaughter, Gil, is the only one who eats from a box of fancy chocolates she brings to her dying grandmother. Her monologue is too late.

In the Freiman’s Kitchen, a documentary shot in Gush Katif in 2005 by Hadar Bashan shows the agonized disbelief of 68-year old Miriam who is threatened with expulsion after living there 40 years. “Anyone watching the film is deeply moved,” said Shperling-Cohen.

Director Ibtisam Mara’ana’s heart-rending documentary Three Times Divorced portrays a Palestinian woman from Gaza beaten, divorced, and thrown out of her house by her Israeli Arab husband. Her gutsy efforts to see her children, to fight the Islamic Sharia courts, to gain legal status, show the power of a determined woman against all odds.

Energized by the success of this year’s five-day Festival – more than 10,000 people attended, twice as many as last year with close to half being men – Shperling-Cohen envisions adding days to the event, and maybe even running a festival twice a year. A few more projects are also on the front burner. Women in the Picture would like to expand its program for teenagers, showing them films (by women directors) that deal with violence in society, followed by discussion.

“We give Israeli women filmmakers exposure, not an income,” said Shperling-Cohen, emphatically. “Most women also teach. This is not high tech, you won’t get rich. You can’t do it unless it is in your blood.”