Films, Guest Speakers Bring Israeli Culture to Wesleyan

Dalit Katz, adjunct assistant professor of religion, meets with Avi Nesher, director of the Israeli film, The Secrets. Nesher’s film is part of the ongoing Ring Family Wesleyan Israel Film Festival, coordinated by Katz.
Posted 02/27/08
Last June, Dalit Katz fell in love with two contemporary Israeli films shown at international film festivals. 
“I saw these movies and I told myself, ‘I am going to bring these films to Wesleyan,” says Katz, adjunct assistant professor of religion.
Katz stayed true to her word.
The films, titled Jellyfish (2006) and The Secrets (2007) are both part of the 2008 Ring Family Wesleyan Israel Film Festival ongoing through April 29. The festival, sponsored by the Jewish and Israel Studies Program, Film Studies Department and Religion Department, features evening film screenings and discussions with movie directors and film critics.
Katz created the Israel Film Festival in 2006 to promote Israeli culture on campus.
“Israeli films are unlike any Hollywood movie,” Katz explains. “They are very innovative, unique and unexpected. Some are about daily life in Israel and others are wonderful stories. Audiences are moved by these films.”
After every film, a guest speaker shares his or her viewpoint on the film, offers an academic reading or a critical commentary, and participates in a question and answer session with attendees in the audience. Past speakers have included Miri Talmon-Bohm, visiting assistant professor of religion; Laura Blum, film critic; and Avi Nesher, director of The Secrets and recipient of Jerusalem International Festival Achievement Award 2006.
“We have internationally well-known directors and film critics here on campus, and this is an incredible opportunity for our students to ask questions and hold discussions with these wonderful speakers,” Katz says. “It was amazing to see the sparks between the audience and Avi Nesher, when he spoke. Having these speakers creates a rich, holistic experience for our students.”
Upcoming films and guest speakers include:
March 3. Someone to Run With, a story about a boy who tries to track down, through the streets of Jerusalem, the owner of a lost Labrador and to piece together the incredible story behind the owner’s disappearance. The film is based on acclaimed Isreali writer David Grossman’s best selling novel. A presentation and discussion will be led by musician Christopher Bowen, who composed the music to the film Jellyfish.
“Someone to Run With is a real must-see movie with beautiful scenes from Jerusalem,” Katz says.
March 24. Live and Become, a story of a Christian boy from Sudan whose mother forced him to assume a Jewish identity of another boy who died in order to send him to Israel and save him from hunger and death in his own country. A discussion will be led by Laura Blum, film critic.
April 29. Jellyfish, a story of three women whose intersecting stories weave an unlikely portrait of modern Israeli life. A discussion will be led by the film’s director and internationally acclaimed writer Etgar Keret, who will talk about this film and read some of his short stories.
Films are shown at 7:30 p.m. in the Goldsmith Family Cinema, located at 301 Washington Terrace inside the Center for Film Studies.
Katz incorporates the films into all three of her Hebrew-based courses. Students enrolled in her HEBR102, HEBR202 and HEBR412-Advanced Tutorial, are assigned 250-500 word writing responses – in Hebrew – after each film as part of the curriculum.
“I ask my students to write their opinions of the movie, analyze a character, give me feedback about what they thought of the movie, or offer a general reaction,” Katz says. “It’s always interesting to see how they relate to the film or a particular character.”
Wesleyan students also take advantage of the festival’s guest speakers, posing an array of questions for the Israeli film experts. The speakers talk in English after the film, but also attend Katz’s Hebrew courses to converse solely in Hebrew. This exposure to native speakers makes the courses an excellent linguistic and cultural opportunity, Katz explains.
“Our guests have commented on how prepared our students are,” Katz says. “Our students are genuinely so interested in the speakers, they come up with several questions to ask them, and they really show enthusiasm about learning about Israeli culture and the language. It’s our amazing students that set Wesleyan apart from other universities.”
She encourages her students to bring their friends and families to the films and guarantees the general audience will find the Israeli films appealing. All films have English subtitles.
Katz, a hobbiest movie-goer, says she developed an interest in Israeli films years ago, and “buys them and watches them” often.
“But my real hobby is making the advertisement posters visible and promoting the film festival here at Wesleyan,” Katz says. “I know once someone sees one film, they will become interested and want to see more.”
By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor