Filmmaker Liz Nord: The film has the potential to broaden American’s perceptions of Israel beyond camels and conflict.Think of Israeli music, and it may conjure up images of either melancholy songwriters sitting around a campfire belting their hearts out, historically nostalgic tunes, or ethnic music backed by tribal beats. Well, it turns out, Israeli music has a thriving punk rock scene that combines a traditional anti-authoritarian stance with a uniquely Israeli outlook on life in this extremely volatile part of the world.
American filmmaker, Liz Nord spent the last three years documenting the underground punk scene in Israel. The product, Jericho’s Echo: Punk Rock in the Holy Land, recently premiered at the DocAviv film festival in Israel, and will be screened throughout the US during the coming year.
Nord grew up in Syracuse at a time when the local hardcore music scene there was flourishing. She attended college in Boston where she met her soon-to-be husband who owned a small independent record label called Negative Progression Records. Nord became the ‘label Mom’ for numerous indie bands who would pass through Boston. Through Negative Progression, Nord met her first Israeli punk rock band – Haifa-based pop punks Useless ID, – who were touring the US at the time. The band piqued Nord’s interest in Israeli music and ultimately provided the impetus for making her documentary.
“As someone who is passionate about both the future of Israel and the power of music to transcend cultural barriers, [Jericho’s Echo] was a natural fit for me. A main motivation was the idea of trying to combat some of the media messages or images about Israel that have been pervasive on western TV and other news outlets. I felt the need to help give a more rounded picture of Israel – it’s not all terrorists and soldiers,” Nord told ISRAEL21c during a visit to Tel Aviv for the premiere of the movie.
In the summer of 2003, Nord spent one month in Israel interviewing a myriad of bands – from the radio friendly sounds of Useless ID to the street punk sound of Chaos Rabak – and speaking to them about what life is like for them as punks in Israel.
Jericho’s Echo presents a unique viewpoint of life in Israel during the second Intifada through the eyes of punk rockers and the punk rock scene in Israel. Compounded with punk philosophy – anarchy, protest, and general anti-establishment – these young Israelis are dealing with nationalism, Zionism, Jewish identity and their inevitable draft into the army. At a time in their lives when teenagers around the world are becoming adults in university or professional settings, these Israeli punk rockers are enlisting in the army – or not – and struggling with the trauma of losing friends or fans in terror attacks.
“Among the kids that I met, I was amazed at their capacity to be thoughtful and open-minded about the situation they are in, and to persevere and make music despite the seemingly overwhelming pressures of their lives,” she said.
Jericho’s Echo is aimed at a non-Israeli audience; most, if not all, of the bands featured speak very good English. As Nord explained, “I made the movie primarily for a western audience and specifically for young people. I think kids in the US, for instance, will really be able to relate to the Israeli kids in the movie. I have been surprised, however, that the film has held appeal for older people, as well. I have had more than one person say to me, ‘this film helped me understand my kids.'”
“I think an American audience will learn a lot from the movie, as we so seldom get to hear what is really going on in the minds of young Israelis today. Even I was surprised at some of the things I heard from them, despite the fact that I researched for about a year before heading to Israel to shoot the footage.”
Much like the origins of punk rock scene in New York in the 1970s, the Israeli punk rock bands follow a do-it-yourself (DIY) aesthetic.
“The [punk rock] scene is still quite underground in Israel and even some of the mainstream Israelis I met were surprised to learn of it. The kids will look shocking to some, with their unorthodox hairstyles and fashion sense, but when it comes down to it, they are all just ‘nice Jewish boys and girls’,” said Nord.
“I had a couple work-in-progress screenings in Philadelphia and a sneak preview of the final film in San Francisco. We are headed to the Toronto Jewish Film Festival in May and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival this summer. So far, the reactions have been just what I would have hoped – the film has sparked conversation and dialogue and folks have seemed genuinely pleased and surprised to see a whole new side of Israel.”
The San Francisco Bay Guardian positively reviewed the film and wrote that Nord “opens a fascinating window on the tight-knit Israeli punk scene with her energetic new documentary.”
Nord hopes to embark on a speaking tour and take the movie to college campuses and independent movie theaters in the United States with one of the bands featured in the movie. The film-making process for Nord was a grassroots effort, funding the film herself and raising money from private sources including several music benefit shows, one taking place in Prague. She is still looking for funding to make her college tour a reality and put a DVD together.
“I definitely think the film has the potential to broaden American’s perceptions of Israel beyond camels and conflict.”