Monday, March 8, 2010
It’s not news anymore, but Ajami – allegedly the Israeli film that was nominated for an Academy Award – didn’t win.
Fine with me. I haven’t seen it – and don’t plan to – for one simple reason: I vote with my shekels (or dollars). Heaven forbid that I reward Scandar Copti, the film’s director and one of its stars, by paying to see it, in any form.
And anyway, it’s not an Israeli film. How do I know? Because Scandar Copti said so.
By this time, most of you have seen the trailer, many of you the film itself. You know more about it than I do. But – for those of you in Rio Linda (or Beersheba, for that matter) who haven’t seen it, the plot is simple: it’s made up of five stories of “everyday life in ‘Ajami’, the “religiously mixed” community of Muslims and Christians in Tel Aviv.” No kidding – that’s what they claim.
I don’t know of anyone living these kinds of “everyday lives” in Tel Aviv or anywhere else. I don’t know any young “Palestinian” who has to work at an illegal job in order to pay for life saving surgery – he’d qualify for medical coverage just like the rest of us. I don’t know of a single “young Jew” who’s fighting a “criminal vendetta” against his own family – oh, sure, who doesn’t have family issues? But a criminal vendetta? Hey – this is Israel, not Sicily.
And outside of the really good detective fiction books the late Batya Gur wrote, I don’t know any police detectives who are obsessed about finding a missing brother – okay, well, maybe there was that theme in one of the Robert Rosenberg novels, too. But again, pure fiction. Nor do I know of any “wealthy Palestinian” longing to marry his Jewish girlfriend.
If anyone around the world thinks that these are the real tales of the “mean streets” common to Israel, guess again.
But aside from the fact that the film apparently gives a highly inaccurate view of life in these parts – which is, trust me, much less angst-filled than this conglomeration of tales would have you believe – I’d suggest you save your money, too.
Of course Oscar madness prevailed among many hopefuls, but none were as crass as Scandar Copti, Ajami’s director. He not only sought out financial support from the State of Israel to make his film, but he accepted it, once his project was approved.
What did he do then? He denied that the State of Israel played any role in his success. “I do not represent a State that does not represent me,” he harrumphed as he dazzled reporters with his total rejection of the State that nurtured him.
Copti, in case it’s relevant, is a Christian Arab who lives the good life in Tel Aviv. Not only did he get taxpayer cash to make, distribute and promote his hateful film, but he also lives just like any other Israeli. He’s protected by the IDF, educated in State schools, kept healthy by State-funded health programs, able to drive to and from his award ceremonies on streets and roads paid for by the taxpayers of Israel…. etc etc. You get the idea. He’s an ingrate, incarnate. He demands support, takes it with gusto, then spits in the face of the taxpayers who made it possible.
This time, there’s talk: MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) said Sunday is about to introduce a bill that would require movie producers who get funding from the state to declare their loyalty to the state. In other words, all those involved in state-funded film - producers, directors, actors, etc. - would have to declare loyalty to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
That seems fair: make any film you wish, say anything about Israel you please. But if you want the taxpayers of Israel to spend their hard-earned money to help you, then it’s not unreasonable that you be asked to verify your support for the State.
Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat made the point very clearly. “Without state support, Copti would not be stepping on the 'red carpet' in Hollywood,” she said. “In the name of populism and artistic freedom, the film was given some NIS 2 million. It's sad that an artist who was funded by the state distances himself from those who gave him the opportunity to create and express himself. Fortunately, the other members of the team that made the movie do see themselves as part of the state, and are proud to represent it as ambassadors of a free culture,” she added.
I’m not at all sure who MK Livnat is talking about when she says that – seems to me the whole crew resembled a basket of asps.
Start with Scandar Copti's two brothers, one of whom was production manager and played in the film as well. Last week, the two brothers were arrested for assaulting police officers in Jaffa.
Not only that, but last October, one of the other actors in the film Eran Naim, was fired from the police department for excessive brutality against demonstrators during the infamous ‘Disengagement’. Although Naim had removed his identity badge thinking he could escape identification as he set about brutally beating peaceful demonstrators, someone identified him from a video as he was violently assaulting a young demonstrator named Akiva Vitkin.
So as a result of Eran Naim’s last starring role – in that video made by Israel National News photographer Tuvia Lerner – he lost his job as a policeman.
This time? A pox on all their houses. I think both Naim and the Copti brothers should lose their roles as makers of Israeli state-sponsored films.
Let them go get their funding from Syria or Saudi Arabia instead. Let’s see if their films will be appreciated over there.