In a region where rockets have hammered civilian residents for the past eight years, the local Sderot Cinemateque remains a popular pastime for residents looking to enjoy a film. As the only rocket-proof cinema in Israel, the Sderot Cinemateque was built eight years ago, right around the time when the first Qassam slammed into Sderot.
The rocket-proof cinema allows local residents to enjoy a film uninterrupted when the rocket alarm, or Tzeva Adom sounds to warn residents of impending Qassams from Gaza. It remains a popular hangout regardless of rocket fire.
A week ago, I had the opportunity to watch a film at the Cinemateque during the eighth annual Cinema South Festival which was held from June 7-12. The festival features the films of graduate students studying in the Department of Film & TV at the local Sapir College. The festival also screened Israeli films that were awarded top prizes abroad as well as international films from Mexico, Hong Kong, and France.
International festival guests included filmmakers Carlos Reygadas from Mexico, Thierry Michel from Belgium, Osvalde Lewat-Hallade of Cameroon and Abi Feijo from Portugal among many others.
I had the opportunity to watch Ajami, one of the featured films of the festival,along with the hundreds of other area residents and international guests. Ajami, named after the largest Arab neighborhood in Jaffa, was co-directed by Israeli Yaron Shani and Jaffa-born Arab, Scandar Copti. The film tells the story of two Muslim Arab brothers and is set against the background of a revenge murder, gangs, Bedouin revenge squads, a Christian Arab godfather and Israeli police.
Ajami was filmed in Arabic -and most of the actors were from the Ajami neighborhood. The mostly Israeli audience at the Sderot cinemateque, myself included, followed along by reading the Hebrew subtitles below.
The film has won international acclaim and was shown in France’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival this past May.
In an interview with the New York Times, the directors of the film, Copti and Shani described their relationship outside of directing of the film, to which both wrote the script. When Shani’s city, Ashdod, was targeted by Gaza rockets in the recent war, Copti called him and said “Take your daughter and your wife and leave.” According to the NYT article, Shani does the same for Copti. Both the directors and the cast where present at the screening in Sderot.
There was something quite unique about watching Ajami in an Israeli rocket-proof theater on the Gaza border. In area that has been devastated by rockets and trauma, it is cultural events like the Cinema South Festival which brings hope for a normal reality that citizens on both sides of the Gaza border continue to seek.