Neta Ariel, director of the Maaleh School of Film and Television, recently presented several films created by Maaleh students to a New Rochelle audience. Films included “A Shabbos Mother,” directed by Inbar Namdar; “Barriers,” directed by Golan Rise; and “The Little Dictator,” directed by Nurit and Emanuel Cohn, a sister-brother team. All were in Hebrew with English subtitles.
“Maaleh is a film school, one of the best in Israel, with an appreciation for and connection to Jewish culture and the State of Israel,” explained Ariel. “Most of the students come from a religious or traditional background. The courses are taught at a very high level, with an emphasis on the practical. Maaleh was established by a number of religious people involved in culture and communications. They wanted to enable talented religious people to study film and television in a place that respects their lifestyle and would fit the values in which they grew up. The Maaleh Film School was established 30 years ago, when Tel Aviv University was the only place offering film studies.” The film school is located in Jerusalem.
Ariel continued, “The lecturers at the school represent Israeli society in all its forms: religious and secular, left and right, rabbis and academics. The teachers of practical courses are among the best filmmakers from the industry in Israel: photographers, editors, directors, producers.”
The first film, “A Shabbos Mother,” is a drama which explores three sisters, representing three groups of Israeli society, who join together for Shabbat in the home of their widowed mother. One daughter is Modern Orthodox and in her ninth month of pregnancy. The second is ultra-Orthodox, struggling with finances and fertility. The third, a radio broadcaster, is single and secular.
Regarding “Barriers,” Ariel recalled, “When we read his script, we said you must make this movie. In the Israeli film industry, there are not many feature films or documentaries on the Israeli/ Arab conflict, most are pro-Palestinian and don’t show a balanced picture about serving in the army and the challenges the soldiers face. In the army, we have all types of soldiers. In this film, one grew up in a left wing family, one is an immigrant character from Russia and the third is an arrogant soldier. These boys are around 20 years old and these are the decisions they face.”
Ariel continued, “this is one of the most popular movies for Birthright; they want to show them a few things about Israel so they can trigger a meaningful discussion.”
The third film was a comedy called “The Little Dictator,” which left the audience rolling in laughter. The film features Yossi Kleinmann, a dull history professor and expert on the political leaders of totalitarian regimes, who feels unappreciated by his students and his domineering wife. At the 90th birthday party of his wife’s grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, Yossi finds himself in a surreal situation that forces him to face up to himself and his family.
Ariel explained, “We work with many educational institutions, JCCs and synagogues all over the world. We translate our films to English and other languages. These films are valuable for educational purposes, for culture and for PR for Israel.”
Ariel proudly listed some of the best known work of Maaleh’s graduates, including “Srugim,” “Shtisel,” “The Unorthodox” and “The Testament.” Maaleh students have received dozens of prizes in film festivals in Israel and abroad, including Hillel Rate’s documentary short, “My Father’s Son,” which won best documentary short at the Moscow Jewish Film Festival. The documentary “Simple Things” by Liel Gur Sharon won honorable mention for best film and honorable mention for critics’ choice at the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival, and Shulamit Lifshitz’s second-year film, “Noa,” was screened on the opening night of the Montreal Israeli Film Festival.
The Netflix television series “Shtisel” is the product of several Maaleh alums. Uri Alon, one of the writers, is a graduate as are several on the production team. “Srugim” was also written by several graduates and directed by Eliezer “Laizy” Shapira, who is not only a graduate but also teaches directing at Maaleh.
Ariel stated, “The future of the television and film industry in Israel is complicated. On the one hand, there are many talented artists and good stories and the industry functions at a high level. But access to funding in Israel is very limited and it is hard to get production support. A lot of good scripts never see the light of day. Of course there are many successes, and content coming from Israel is received with respect and love by Netflix and HBO.”
Ariel added, “Maaleh’s vision is to create a production company for alumni and a film foundation that will support the best of their films and television programs. This will answer the great need that exists in Israel, and in the Jewish and Christian world, for films and TV programs that bring original stories, are made at a high professional level and are modest to suit to the needs for family viewing and all audiences.”
More information on the school, its alumni and its projects can be found on their website, https://www.maale.co.il/en.
By Judy Berger