Isaac Zablocki is the director of film programs for the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, and in that capacity he presides over the only venue in New York that is dedicated to Jewish movies all year round. Zablocki is responsible for three of the most interesting film festivals in the city’s calendar. The Other Israel Festival is a unique showcase for films that take a very different perspective on the state of the Jewish state. The ReelAbilities Film Festival is a rapidly expanding showcase of films about physically and mentally challenged people, frequently Jewish. The Israel Film Center Festival is now the only showcase of new Israeli films in New York City, the Israel Film Festival having relocated to Los Angeles.
Now, Zablocki says, the JCC will be adding a fourth event, the Social Justice Film Festival, to take place on the weekend of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in January.
“Each of these events has its own specific topic,” Zablocki said in a telephone interview last week. “But they overlap here and there. I’m constantly finding that the festivals are very much connected [to one another] in their educational purpose and in the use of film as a way of engaging our community on topics that might otherwise not be easy to discuss.”
Perhaps even more exciting than that news, though, is another initiative of the Israel Film Center, the creation of a non-governmental, nonprofit entity to aid in the funding of new Israeli films. (See fuller story on The Jewish Week’s website, thejewishweeek.com.) It comes as funding for the arts has emerged as a fraught issue tied to politics during the tenure of the controversial culture minister, Miri Regev. In such an environment, a new source of money for film production is a welcome innovation.
“A lot of Americans support Israeli filmmakers through private foundations or by privately putting their names on Israeli films,” Zablocki said. “There’s a need for this to be more guided, more of a system. That’s something we can provide. A lot of people want to support Israeli cinema, and this will open opportunities for them.”
The Other Israel festival, which celebrates its 13th year Nov. 14-21, is perhaps the JCC’s most controversial package, but its survival and growth were always part of the overall plan.
“We always saw it as an ongoing event,” Zablocki said. “We knew from the start that the original focus on the nation’s non-Jewish minorities would be hard to maintain; there just aren’t filmmakers working in that area. But we always meant it to be sustainable. We had no idea where it would go or what the reactions would be, but people have taken to it.”
The festival has evolved in tandem with the ongoing evolution of Israel itself.
As Zablocki wryly noted, “We have been showing more films about topics besides the Arab Israelis. The last few years we have focused on refugees and migrant workers and their place in Israeli society. This year we have a film, ‘Samaritans,’ which is about the Samaritan community. They’re both Israeli and Palestinian and they live on the West Bank, but they are neither Jewish nor Muslim nor Christian.” But the core of the festival is still “the day-to-day life of the Arab community in Israel,” Zablocki said. “They are twenty percent of the country’s population, but we’re still not seeing a lot of films about them.”
Except, of course, at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan.
The 13th annual Other Israel Film Festival will take place at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan (Amsterdam Avenue and 76th Street), Nov. 14-21,