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Claus Mueller


Claus Mueller is a Film Festival Ambassador to filmfestivals.com

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene.


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P.S. Jerusalem, Danae Elon, USA, 2015

In this compelling documentary Danae Elon provides an insightful view of her family’s three-year experience living in Jerusalem to which she returned in 2010 after an absence of 20 years. She prefaced her film with a statement from her father, the renowned liberal Israeli intellectual Amos Elon who left that country in 2005, “We have seen that what men thought was true was often more important than the truth itself”, an observation fitting perfectly her frank portrait of life in the conflict torn city. Before his death in Italy in 2009 Elon asked his daughter not to return to Israel.

Using footage Danae has been recording since her high school days about her family, her life with two children in Brooklyn and her stay in Jerusalem, Danae Elon composed a highly personal and honest portrait of her family’s everyday life, and the perception of her family and people she encountered of the reality they were facing. They ranged from her father and mother, her husband Philip, a French- Algerian Jew who works as a photographer, her two young children Tristan and Andrei, neighbors, and teachers from the school her children visited in Jerusalem. The discussions she pursued were complemented by images from demonstrations against new settlements in Arab neighborhoods, construction sites and one distant settlement where a schoolmate of Tristan lived. As Danae points out she appears to be detached from what she is filming, the rolling camera serving as an element between her and what is recorded.  The essence of her documentary is the experience of the others and not her interpretation, thus what could be considered overt value judgments by her cannot be noticed. Even her affirmative response to a question of Tristan if a construction site for a highway near their home dividing an Arab village into separate sections was bad for the community seems more objective than loaded by her preconceptions.

The complexity of the contradictions, conflicts, and open tensions of contemporary life in Jerusalem are captured in the responses and observations she records rather than what Danae has to say.  The articulate questions her children pose about the air raid sirens, the military, checkpoints, and living in separate communities, the comments of Arab neighbors about the lack of justice in their displacement, the discussions the children have among themselves and their school mates and material from the recording of outside events give viewers a cogent idea of the challenge living in Israel. More importantly the comments by her husband Philip elucidate the problems.

Her father Amos Elon who as a war correspondent praised the Israeli victories of 1948 but never mentioned the displacement if 700,000 Palestinians and the destruction of their villages believed that the establishment of Israel would lead to a democratic egalitarian and peaceful society. But he became opposed to the occupation of Palestinian land and dreaded the consequences of the settlement’s policies. Before dying he told Danae that “Israel is a country of thieves” and reflects an “unwavering strife and warfare far away from a great society”

The Israel Danae returned to is different from the place she grew up in, from the place she considered her home and difficult for her children to experience as a home. Those protesting the settlements are called Nazis and worse by their conservative opponents. Tristan and his Arab friend report conflicts between Arab and Jewish kids. They tell eachother which language to use in which neighborhoods to avoid being cursed at. Further the school they attend, the Hand Bilingual School, is the only bilingual school in Jerusalem serving both Jewish and Arab pupils. All others are segregated preventing Jewish and Arab children to get to know each other outside their ethnic confines.

Given her roots in Jerusalem, her work with a camera, and teaching at a college, Danae is aware of the multifold problems they are facing. She is somehow able to cope but wonders if staying in Jerusalem   will make her children be hated or be among the hateful.  

Philip who has observed violence among local children and slaps one of them has reached his zero point. He wants his children to feel at home yet fears that they will become part of the pattern of violence in this torn society. He feels like a complete outsider. He cannot secure a job, is barred from others through language, politics, and the color of his skin.   “Dealt with as coming from nothing [I am] treated badly like an Ethiopian...Just being a Jew is not enough of a reason to exist. Living in Jerusalem is becoming part of the problem, of being a stone in the settlements”, the external conflicts become internal and, “are eating us from the inside” because of the life in a “racist fucked up society”.  Philip begins to feel as if he can no longer stay in the current situation and sees the possibility of leaving his family.

Danae’s father no longer believed that Israel could be his home but created one for her when she grew up there. Now she does not know where her home is but realizes that the best home they can give to their children is staying together as a family. After living for three years in Jerusalem they all return to Brooklyn.

P.S. Jerusalem is a superb, flawless, and highly personal investigation of finding ones self and the cultural and political forces shaping individual identity in a fractured society. Danae Elon succeeds so well in handling her complex and controversial topic because she lets the images and statements recorded speak for themselves rather than playing a directive role. She does not offer a solution to the problems observed but reaffirms the central importance of the nuclear family.

 

Claus Mueller   filmexchange@gmail.com

 

 

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