MIDDLETOWN — For seven special nights this semester, Wesleyan University will seem more like artsy Tel Aviv than a college town in Connecticut. Thanks to the tireless work of Professor Dalit Katz and the Ring Family, Wesleyan will screen seven cutting-edge, contemporary Israeli films as part of the Ring Family Wesleyan Israel Film Festival. Each film will be screened in a new, 400 seat cinema on the Wesleyan campus. And each film will be followed by a question-and-answer session with a well-known writer, director or film critic.
For Katz, who teaches three Hebrew courses at Wesleyan, the film festival is a labor of love.
“I integrate the film festival into my Hebrew curriculum,” said Katz. “All of my students are required to see all of the films. They then meet with the director in class and have a discussion in Hebrew. Students must also produce a response to the film, in Hebrew.”
Katz said she is pleased that her students don’t simply learn Hebrew language-they gain valuable exposure to Israeli culture.
“This combined series brings the best of Israel to the viewers-the films are multi cultural, pluralistic, artistic and creative,” explains Katz. “The artistic and creative community in Israel is flourishing-filmmakers are not afraid to take chances. They are very innovative, and they offer fresh angles.
“The Wesleyan film festival is designed to educate the community about the rich cultural life of Israeli society. Each film illuminates a different aspect of modern contemporary Israeli life, from life in modern Tel Aviv to life at the kibbutz. One film deals with the life of an immigrant from Sudan and another film deals with the life of foreign workers in Israel. Israel at 60 is a very hybrid and complex society which is well reflected in all the films,” Katz said.
Katz was pleased with the response to the movie “The Secrets,” screened on February 4 as a “preview” to the actual film festival.
“There was a great turnout, and the movie was so beautiful, such a spiritual experience.”
The film takes place partially in a midrasha, a Jewish women’s seminary, in Safed, and deals with the friendship of two Israeli women from very different backgrounds, their relationship with a sick French woman, and Kabbalah.
“The subject matter was new to the audience and very revealing. Avi Nesher (the director) was just splendid in the question and answer session—so articulate, so smart and he connected so well to the audience.”
As a favor to Katz, Nesher allowed her and Wesleyan to be the first in the United States to screen the film; Nesher then co-taught with Katz in her advanced Hebrew tutorial.
Nesher, writer, producer and director of such well-known films as “Turn Left at the End of the World,” “Blind Date” and “The Point Men,” was born in Tel Aviv. He attended junior high school and high school in New York City, where his father was stationed as a member of the Israeli diplomatic corp. Nesher graduated Manhattan’s prestigious Ramaz High School and took courses at Columbia University before returning to Israel to complete his army service.
Nesher, who has been writing movies since the 1970s, is particularly proud of the state of Israeli films, which he says have become “very interesting, lucid, and accessible.”
Nesher explains that the current funding system has greatly helped the Israeli film industry.
“The government covers 25 percent or more of the budget, Israeli television contributes, as well as private donors,” he explained.
Nesher further explains that, when people first saw such films as his “Turn Left at the End of the World, “ a film set in Israel in the 1960s dealing with relationship between immigrants to Israel from Morocco and India, “they were really surprised to see that this is Israel.”
“Now,” he reports, “audiences come to expect such films-they are no longer patronizing, coming out to see Israeli films out of sympathy-theynow watch Israeli movies like they would Spanish, French or Serbian movies-and they view them as good or bad-not Israeli!”
“They are not your grandfather’s Israeli movies,” Nesher said. “They are a whole new generation of films.”
Upcoming films screened as part of the Ring Family Wesleyan Israel Film Festival will include:
“Year Zero” on Feb. 25, “Someone to Run With” on March 3, “Live and Become” on March 24, and “Jellyfish” on April 29. All films will be shown at 7:30pm at the Wesleyan Film Department, 301 Washington Terrace, Middletown.