UK Jewish Film Festival

Review: Mr Predictable ★★★★ - Israeli romcom complete with canine and human stars to set your tail wagging

film-mr-predictable As the 20th UK International Jewish Film Festival gets underway (5-20 November), we take our first look at the selection of films on offer. Roee Florentin’s Mr Predictable will have you cheering as  its eponymous hero finally refuses to sit up and beg…

As a dog lover and owner myself, I was especially delighted to be asked to introduce the UKJFF screening of Roee Florentin’s real doggie treat of a romcom. Meet Adi Levi – a man who is simply too nice for his own good – until he literally bumps into Natalya , or one of the dogs she walks. Natalya is what you might call naughty but nice – just the girl to take our hero in hand and retrain him, while the dogs she walks give him a good licking too. It’s one of those marvellous Israeli films that give you insights into ordinary life in Israel, with the situation there in the background, informing it rather than being at the heart of the story.

Ever since Adi's soldier father left for Lebanon saying he’d be back soon, only to be killed in action, Adi has been careful and cautious to the point of timidity and so very aware of others that he has become a pushover, walked all over not just by his boss, his wife and his mother, but even his spoilt brat of a pre-teen son. A mix-up at a hospital appointment that leads him to believe he has mere weeks to live proves a life changer, but only because it’s compounded by the one careless act of his life – narrowly avoiding killing one of Natalya’s charges when he runs it over.

From this unpromising beginning, a new relationship and a new man are born. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself cheering Adi on as he finds not just his mojo, but his inner hard man. Much of this is down to the winning performances of a beautifully matched pair of actors, Amos Tamam and Meytal Gal Suisa as Adi and Natalya (and not forgetting the canine supporting cast), directed with equal parts of sensitivity and panache by Roee Florentin against a great backdrop of Tel Aviv’s parks and suburbs. I guarantee Mr Predictable will make tails wag and I predict dog-friendly screenings very soon!

By Judi Herman

Mr Predictable has the following UKIJFF screenings:

Sunday 6 November, 3pm, at Odeon Swiss Cottage, NW3 5EL.

Sunday 20 November, 6pm, Phoenix Cinema, N2 9PJ.

http://ukjewishfilm.org

Review: Moos ★★★★ - A charming, contemporary comedy set in Amsterdam’s Jewish community

film-moos As the 20th UK International Jewish Film Festival gets underway (5-20 November), we take our first look at the selection of films on offer on offer. Job Gosschalk's  beguiling comedy Moos gives an insight into life in Jewish communities in Amsterdam.

This entirely charming and absorbing comedy set in Amsterdam’s Jewish community wears its ‘kosher’ credentials lightly but convincingly from the opening frames. Twenty-something Moos and her widowed father are preparing for a Chanukah party with the relatives. She is his right-hand woman, both in his draper’s shop and as homemaker, though now he is dating a likely single mother whose son is coming up for bar mitzvah, Moos realises her life’s been on hold too long.

The main storyline revolves around Moos’ unsuccessful efforts to get into drama school and her settling for a job in the school’s canteen; and the visit of her long-time childhood friend Sam, now living in Israel and how that chimes with her attraction to sexy singing teacher Chris, who offers (very) private coaching. Meanwhile life in the community – which embraces Moos and her father, family and friends, including Sam – continues to be a vital part of the film’s fabric. The Chanukah latkes, the preparations for the bar mitzvah and the celebration of a ceremonial circumcision in the family all play their part in Moos’ story.

As played by Jip Smit, Moos is an engaging, kind-hearted young woman, unselfconscious and natural, attractive rather than beautiful, and you can’t help warming to her. Frederik Brom is touching as her father Maup; and from the moment he appears at the door, we can see, even if Moos can’t, that Daniel Cornelissen’s open, sincere Sam is made for her.

Writer/director Job Gosschalk and co-writer Judit Goudsmit take their audience to drama school and give us time out in the café with its quirky characters. And they are equally adept at creating an attractive and subtle picture of Moos’ network of family and other relationships. There are delightful flashbacks to Moos and Sam as children and touching glimpses of Moos caring for her father.

Then at the bar mitzvah in synagogue, in a scene reminiscent of Jack Rosenthal’s Bar Mitzvah Boy, it is Moos who is there for the bar mitzvah when he gets stage fright. Meanwhile the story of her efforts to face up to her own diffidence has its own delightful set-piece climax where she gets to duet with real-life Israeli singing star Asaf Hertz. There are some marvellously evocative settings too – the Amsterdam street with folk cycling past the draper’s shop, the lush bales of cloth piled inside and of course that grand synagogue, the men in prayer shawls gathered on the central bimah (platform) around the Torah scroll. Moos is a delight from start to finish.

By Judi Herman

Moos has the following UKIJFF screenings:

Sunday 6 November, 6pm, at Odeon South Woodford, E18 2QL.

Thursday 10 November, 7.30pm, at Odeon Swiss Cottage, NW3 5EL.

Sunday 13 November, 4pm, at HOME Manchester, M15 4FN.

http://ukjewishfilm.org

Review: The Midnight Orchestra ★★★★ - A poignant, magical story about regret and relationships set in Morocco

film-midnight-orchestra As the 20th UK International Jewish Film Festival gets underway (5-20 November), we take our first look at the selection of films on offer. Jérôme Cohen-Olivar's poignant The Midnight Orchestra gives an insight into life in Jewish communities in Morocco.

Wall Street whizz kid Michael Abitbol returns to his childhood home in Casablanca to be reunited with his elderly father: legendary band leader and local hero Marcel Botbol, from whom he is estranged. Botbol is returning there himself for the first time since leaving his native city and adoring fans for Israel in 1973, when the Yom Kippur War caused an antisemitic backlash in Morocco. But no sooner do they meet again than tragedy strikes and the son must engage with officials of the local Jewish community to bury his father. But first Michael must fulfil his father’s last wish – to reunite the band and this becomes an overwhelming desire to do so for one last, transcendent gig.

It's Michael's dogged pursuit of these eccentric and impossible, even dangerous old men that drives the narrative. A  pimp and gangster, complete with moll, an eccentric millionaire who prefers life as a beggar and the harmonica player confined in an asylum since he jumped into the nighttime harbour swearing he heard the midnight orchestra playing out at sea.

Perhaps just as important is what actually proves to be the film's central relationship, between Michael and an eccentric Arab taxi driver and ardent fan of Botbol. He becomes Sancho Panza to Michael’s Don Quixote, local guide and lifesaver. It's almost a bromance, but given the age gap it's perhaps more a consolation for the father and son relationship he has just lost. Their quest to find the band members is both comical and suspenseful and for Michael a bittersweet nostalgia trip too. His childhood around the band and its members is beautifully evoked by sepia tinted footage of the musicians in their prime. Michael sees the little ghost of his younger self too, haunting the places where he played as a boy.

For the audience the film is an insight into the past and present of a Jewish community little known outside Morocco and into the now cordial relationship it has with the country's Muslim majority. There are stand-out performances from Jewish Moroccan actor Avishay Benazra as Michael and Aziz Dadas as his taxi driver helpmeet. And there's another effective comic cameo double act from two actors, whose names I have searched for in vain, as a pair of officious and oleaginous representatives of the local Jewish burial society. This is a poignant, magical story set in Casablanca now, about regret and relationships, memory and getting old. My one regret is that we had only a brief, tantalising taste of how the fabled orchestra might have sounded. I would have loved to hear the whole of the tribute played at the graveside of their leader.

By Judi Herman

The Midnight Orchestra has the following UKIJFF screenings:

Sunday 6 November, 8.30pm, at Odeon Swiss Cottage, NW3 5EL.

Tuesday 15 November, 7.30pm, at Seven Arts Leeds, LS7 3PD.

Saturday 19 November, 7.30pm, at CCA Glasgow, G2 3JD.

http://ukjewishfilm.org

From The Producers to Borat: the best Jewish films of all time

jr-best-jewish-films-ever This autumn the UK International Jewish Film Festival marks its 20th anniversary. To help celebrate the rich smorgasbord of films it has offered over the years, as well as giving us a chance to revel in the world of film, JR asked you to vote for your favourite Jewish film. We can now announce the results! And below our panel of filmmakers and critics have chosen their own favourites.

The best Jewish films of all time; here's how you voted…

1 FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (1971) dir Norman Jewison 2 SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993) dir Steven Spielberg 3 ANNIE HALL (1977) dir Woody Allen 4 THE PIANIST (2002) dir Roman Polanski 5 AU REVOIR, LES ENFANTS (1987) dir Louis Malle 6 A SERIOUS MAN (2009) dir Ethan Coen, Joel Coen 7 SHOAH (1985) dir Claude Lanzmann 8 EXODUS (1960) dir Otto Preminger 9 CROSSING DELANCEY (1988) dir Joan Micklin Silver 10 YENTL (1983) dir Barbara Streisand 11 BLAZING SADDLES (1974) dir Mel Brooks 12 THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940) dir Charlie Chaplin 13 THE PRODUCERS (1967) dir Mel Brooks 14 THE PAWNBROKER (1964) dir Sidney Lumet 15 USHPIZIN (2004) dir Gidi Dar 16 SON OF SAUL (2015) dir Laszlo Nemes 17 WALTZ WITH BASHIR (2008) dir Ari Folman 18 CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981) dir Hugh Hudson 19 THE FRISCO KID (1979) dir Robert Aldrich 20 THE BAND’S VISIT (2007) dir Eran Kolirin

And an honourable mention to other films you noted which weren’t on our list: Wish I Was Here (2014), Once Upon A Time In America (1984), A Kid For Two Farthings (1955).

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Jason Solomons JR film editor; BBC film critic; author Woody Allen Film by Film

Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987) dir Louis Malle Louis Malle’s tale of three Jewish boys secretly enrolled at a Catholic boarding school in rural France during Nazi occupation is as heartbreaking as it is beautifully observed. Themes of identity, chilling snobbery and institutional betrayal unfold under a school regime that mirrors the turbulence outside as well as sheltering the boys from it. This film is nevertheless imbued with fondness and tenderness, told with a childlike innocence that is rudely shattered in the final devastating moments.

The Producers (1968) dir Mel Brooks Mel Brooks’ epochal, taboo-smashing comedy features Broadway charlatan (Zero Mostel) and nervous accountant (the late Gene Wilder) as they try to put on the worst play ever, only to see the bad-taste musical Springtime for Hitler become a camp smash hit. Barely 20 years after the event, only Jews could have got away with playing the Holocaust for laughs.

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) dir Woody Allen Woody Allen’s most mature and most Jewish work, balances comedy, tragedy, family and guilt with masterly skill. Martin Landau is outstanding as the paterfamilias troubled by a mistress who threatens his reputation; Allen plays a documentary maker having to film a flattering portrait of his odious TV producer brother-in-law.

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Judi Herman JR arts editor, BBC broadcaster

Young Frankenstein (1974) dir Mel Brooks Which Mel Brooks film to chose: Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein? Gene Wilder, Madeleine Kahn and Marty Feldman, making a trio of much-missed Jewish performers, swing it for me. Evocative monochrome, clever, self- referential plotting, running jokes (‘Fronkensteen’ and ‘Eyegor’), fun with beloved standard musical numbers: “Pardon me boy is this the Transylvania station?” – and not forgetting that monster Schwanzstück . . .

Ushpizin (2004) dir Gidi Dar Dateline Jerusalem, the Festival of Succot. Devout couple Moshe and Mali face impoverishment – and her infertility. Miraculously an unexpected gift and a Succah (the booth they need to celebrate the festival) appear. Another miracle: acquaintances from Moshe’s past arrive, gratefully accepted as ‘ushpizin’ (holy guests). But these boorish men are prison escapees . . . I choose Ushpizin for its honest insight into Orthodox life as well as its humanity and light comic touch.

Salomea’s Nose (2014) dir Susan Korda This gemlike tragicomedy twists and turns to delicately navigate the experience of 20th-century European Jewry – in just 23 minutes. The lush period-feel palate, Jasmin Reuter’s witty, plangent score, clever and unexpected camera angles all result in perfection!

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Andrew Pulver Film editor, the Guardian

A Serious Man (2009) dir Ethan and Joel Cohen Until A Serious Man, the Coen brothers hinted only obliquely at their Jewishness (“I don’t roll on Shabbos!” as Walter Sobchak says in The Big Lebowski). However, A Serious Man, an unarguable masterpiece, not only draws copiously from their memories growing up in 1960s Minnesota, but also has all the dramatic heft and thematic brilliance of Saul Bellow or Philip Roth. A multilayered nest of stories (including a prologue that comes on like a Yiddish zombie flick), this film is as mysteriously elegant as it is moving.

Chariots of Fire (1981) dir Hugh Hudson Released in 1981, as Thatcherism got up its head of steam, Chariots of Fire has been somewhat unfairly been bracketed with that era’s resurgent British patriotism. However, the film is really about the forces that brought about the end of the empire. The Jewish half is devoted to sprinter Harold Abraham, who resented the Edwardian amateurism of British athletics and pushed for meritocracy. The film remains one of the few accounts of British Jewry’s attempt to assimilate and is a genuinely stirring story to boot.

Borat (2006) dir Larry Charles Borat is not ‘about’ Jews in the conventional sense, but Sacha Baron Cohen’s creation is so concerned with Jewishness it deserves a special Oscar for cultural self-mockery. From the epic ‘running of the Jew’ scenes in Borat’s home village, to the insults Borat whispers at his Jewish B&B hosts, to the garbled Hebrew that Baron Cohen passes off as Kazakh, the satire of intolerance has never been more deadly. Borat has wider concerns than simply Jewishness, but as one of the best films of the millennium so far, it deserves Jewish respect.

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Judy Ironside Founder and President of UK Jewish Film

Watermarks (2004) dir Yaron Zilberman Champion women swimmers of the legendary Jewish sports club Hakoah Vienna in the 1930s stage a reunion with the help of director Yaron Zilberman. They travel from across the world and once again swim in the same pool in Vienna, 65 years after they last swam there together. When these elegant Austrian women enter the water there is a powerful and hugely poignant sense of their survival.

Lemon Tree (2008) dir Eran Ricklis A Palestinian widow (Hiam Abass) must defend her lemon tree field when it is threatened with being torn down by her new neighbour, Israel’s defence minister, who views the grove as a security threat. There are complex layers to the story as an alliance forms between the minister’s wife and the widow. Eran Ricklis brings his experience as one of Israel’s top directors to this highly effective story.

Fugitive Pieces (2007) dir Jeremy Podeswa This is a sensitive Canadian drama about a Greek archaeologist who rescues a Polish child, Jakob, from hiding after his family has been murdered during the war. The archaeologist returns with the child to bring him up at his home on a Greek island. Throughout his life Jakob obsessively returns to his memories and struggles to live his new life to the full.

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Mike Leigh Film and theatre director

Hester Street (1974) dir Joan Micklin Silver Healthily free from sentimental Hollywood Jewish schmaltz, this beautiful, honest, low-budget, independent black-and-white film is a masterpiece. Set in 1896 in New York’s Yiddish-speaking Lower East Side, it is a warm-hearted, yet perceptive, study of the immigrant experience, and of the tensions between Orthodox tradition and assimilation. There is wonderful acting, especially from Carol Kane as the bewildered sheitl-wearing young wife, newly arrived from the Old World.

Radio Days (1987) dir Woody Allen Apart from being Woody Allen’s best film by far, ‘Radio Days’ gives us the most real, the warmest and the most accurate portrait of lower middle-class Jewish family life of any movie in the canon. Seen in parallel with the exotic world of the radio programmes they endlessly listen to, an impeccable ensemble of Jewish character actors takes us through the trials and tribulations of the 1930s and 40s. Funny, nostalgic and sometimes profoundly moving.

Kadosh (1999) dir by Amos Gitai This bleak, heightened and relentlessly oppressive Israeli film looks unflinchingly at the appalling misogyny of the charedi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish community in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim. Two adult sisters suffer mental, psychological, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the unbending male religious culture. No praise is too high for the brave courage of Amos Gitai and his crew. Spectacular and essential viewing.

 

The UK International Jewish Film Festival runs from Saturday 5 - Sunday 20 November. See www.ukjewishfilm.org for info.

Review: JeruZalem – "A zombie frightfest complete with Biblical quotes"

The Paz brothers (Doron and Yoav) bring zombies to Jerusalem in an original film that may well scare you – if you don’t feel too nauseous viewing a wildly wobbling Old City of Jerusalem through the Google Glass Jewish American Princess heroine Sarah wears, a gift from her Dad to take on her first trip to Israel.

This may be a zombie frightfest complete with Biblical quotes, but if you’re familiar with Dracula and other vampire movies, you’ll recognise elements here – the handsome young man who falls in with the two female buddies, the fatal decision to stay in a spooked Holy City (think ‘let’s take the shortcut through the graveyard at nightfall – what harm can it do?’) the flightier of the two falling victim first and scenes in an asylum designed to scare the viewer witless too, if you’re not already thoroughly spooked by winged zombies and violent exorcisms.

The girls are as fun-loving and careless as you could wish, so it never really looks as if it will end well for either of them, but don’t let that put anyone off visiting the Holy City – and seeking out the extraordinary alleys, tunnels and walkways where the film is so lovingly shot.

By Judi Herman

JeruZalem screens Wednesday 18 November, 9.15pm, Odeon Swiss Cottage, 96 Finchley Rd, NW3 5EL; 0333 006 7777. www.odeon.co.uk

Can the chaos of hit TV series Fauda help to bring about peace and understanding between Israel/Palestine's battling communities? Judi Herman speaks to writer/performer Lior Raz

Fauda TV show Lior Raz is the co-writer and plays a vital leading role in Fauda, currently the biggest hit TV series in Israel. Surprisingly, this thriller about an Israeli combat unit (or Mista’arvim) working undercover disguised as Arabs, is a hit with the Arab community. This is because it is even-handed in its portrayal of the hopes and fears and the good and the bad in both communities. It is a phenomenon then, particularly right now, as violence escalates again on the streets of Israel. Judi Herman spoke to Lior Raz ahead of his visit to the UK Jewish Film Festival for a Q&A session following the second of three cinema screenings of all 12 episodes of Fauda at JW3.

Fauda is Arabic for chaos – not just an apt description of the state of lives on both sides that is often used in the present situation, but the code word the unit uses when its cover is blown.

“I think our show demonstrates how complicated the situation is between us and the Palestinians”, declares Raz. Complicated indeed so I wonder how Raz and his co-writer, journalist Avi Issacharoff, manage to be so even handed. I have noticed from the credits that the production team seems to be Jewish Israelis and yet they show the Palestinian community and their hopes and fears so compassionately.

“Actually part of our production team was Arab and that was very important for us to hear their voices throughout the production. Our script manager for example, she was an Arab Israeli. And my co-creator Avi Issacharoff is one of the best Israeli reporters dealing with Arab issues on a daily basis.  And for us it was very important to show the other side and to let the Israelis know and try to understand and maybe to have a little bit of compassion for the other side. We wanted to talk about the price that everybody pays.” He says simply.

“For me as an actor when we wrote the Arab parts, it was very important that they wouldn’t be flat characters, that they were rounded, the bad guys and the good guys. Because when you play the bad guy you have to convince the audience that the bad guys are human beings and let the audience be the judge. Actually everything is very similar for the Israeli and Arab characters. Both are shown fighting and the price that their families and friends pay is so huge and it doesn’t matter if you’re Arab or Israeli. And that is even though the narrative of the story is Israeli, because it’s not an Arab show it’s Israeli. We’re talking about the pain we have to deal with.”

The reality of that pain is all too personal for Raz. I had been moved to read that although it’s made clear that none of the characters or events in Fauda is real, the third episode is dedicated to the memory of a real woman, Iris Azulai, stabbed 25 years ago in Jerusalem in the sort of terrorist attack featured in Fauda. When I ask him to tell me more about her, he tells me she was his girlfriend, aged just 18 when she was murdered. “So that’s why we based a character in that episode on her.”

He says he drew on his own reactions to his terrible loss in the writing. “The way her boyfriend reacted, was just how I used to act when I was in the army when she was murdered.” When he tells me it is 25 years to the day since Iris died, he can tell that I’m fighting back tears and comforts me. But his answer is uncompromising when I go on to talk about the violence in the show, which far from playing for sympathy for the Mista’arvim, does not shirk from showing members of the Israeli unit as trigger-happy and heavy-handed right from the start, where a joyful Arab wedding scene becomes a scene of devastation.

“A guy comes towards us with a knife, so for me the knife is a weapon. And yes it’s a big question what to do if someone is running against your friend with a knife. When you do this kind of action, working undercover, it’s quite a scary thing. When you get inside these kinds of places everything is very dangerous and if you see a knife it means someone wants to kill you or your friend and you have to kill him first.” And Iris, he says, might not have died if only one of the knifeman’s other victims, armed with a gun, had shot to kill. “Another of those attacked was from the Israeli special forces. He shot this guy in the knees. He thought he could stop him by shooting him in the knees. But he still managed to stab him to death. So for me if someone comes against you with a knife, it is life or death and I prefer to live.”

Fauda TV show

Of course Raz has been in the eye of the storm. He has first-hand experience of this sort of situation from his time serving in the army. “Yes I was in the special forces in Israel. I used to see these things, I participated in this kind of operation. Even so, many things that we wrote in the stories in the show are from our imagination. But there is this kind of unit in Israel there is this kind of terrorism in Palestine and there is this kind of action. For 26 years we didn’t talk about it, I didn’t talk about it what I did in the army, what kind of stuff I saw and participated in.  But when we started to write about all this stuff it was kind of healing for us because it was the first time we talked about the price everybody paid for the actions we did in the army.”

The show has been equally successful with both Jewish Israeli and Arab Israeli viewers. Arab fans were astonished to discover it was not written and made by an Arab production company and Raz and his co-stars are regularly mobbed by fans from both communities and asked to pose with them for selfies. “You know I just came back from the mall – I went to the pharmacy to buy stuff for my kids and there are many Arab pharmacies in Israel – and everyone wanted to take a picture with me because they saw the show and really loved it. I love Arab culture and I love the language and this is the first time in Israel we showed them. We showed women – you don’t see women on Arab TV sitting drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. This is the first time that you hear their voices and the Palestinian narrative. And I know that a huge percentage of Israeli Arabs follow our show and I get emails from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from Arabs who have seen it. And what’s interesting is that I talk with many right-wing Israelis too and they say that this is the first time they can feel compassion for the other side – because of our show.”

I can really understand that, for I was particularly moved myself, when Fauda’s central Palestinian character, Tawfiq Hamed, a notorious terrorist who has to live in hiding, because he is presumed dead, manages a clandestine rendezvous with his wife Nasrin. They are obviously a devoted couple, played with huge sensitivity and uncompromising authenticity by Hishan Suleiman and Hanan Hillo. And both man and wife are indeed paying the price for his violent activism. I congratulate Raz on the series’ marvellously complex and believable women characters, both Arab and Israeli.

The tension is unbearable enough, and it’s ratcheted up, not just by the music but also by a clever linking device. As the action moves from one location to another, the screen becomes monochrome and flat as if the viewer were behind surveillance cameras from drone devices. “This was our director, Assaf Bernstein’s idea, because there is, as we speak, in Afghanistan, in Israel and in the Palestinian territories, someone, planes, watching everything, helping the forces to orientate. But for us as artists in the show we wanted to show that all the time it’s tense. Even in your home, someone is watching from above, and yes, I think it does keep up the tension.”

The music, especially over the end credits of each episode, is not always the same but has a terrific Arab pulse beat. Is it original or found music?

“It’s new music and we asked the composer, Gilad Benamram, for Arab music. It is supposed to be Arab music and when as an actor I was practising my role, for something like six months I just listened to Arab music. For me to get into character (though my wife didn’t like it!) everything in my car was Arab – Arab news and Arab music! And also the undercover Israelis, that’s what they hear – Arab music; because they like it and they want to act like Arabs, sound like Arabs so that’s what they do. They hear Arab music all the time.”

Raz plays Doron Kavillio, a former member of the Mista’arvim, who returns to the unit from his new life planting vineyards and running his winery, when it becomes clear that Tawfiq Hamed, whom he thought he had hunted to his death, is still very much alive. So for Raz, it is almost art imitating life. I ask him what it’s like to have written the show, to appear in it, to know he is writing lines and situations for his own character. Are you at one remove from that character? I ask him. I’m finding it strange to talk to him when I’ve just been watching ‘him’ on screen.

Fauda TV show

“It’s actually very hard to be creator, writer and actor at the same time. But I think four months before we began to shoot, I put aside my creator alter ego and I just concentrated on the acting part. But when we were on set, I went every day, even if I wasn’t involved in the shooting, and I watched everything. It’s amazing to see the words that you write become a character. There was an amazing actor whose character got killed off in the middle of the season. When you write it, you don’t know the guy, how he’s acting, but when he ‘died’ it was very hard for all of us because we really wanted to continue with him, because he was such an amazing guy. I really had to concentrate on the filming because there was a very big operation, at that time, the Gaza war, in August last year and Avi my co-creator was in the field reporting everything, so I was quite alone, it was just the director and me. We had to really concentrate on everything, especially on how the Arabs might be thinking. It was amazing to see everything you’ve been writing in your imagination for 20 years happening right in front of you. To see an actor saying the words that you wrote – and it’s a great part that I’ve got.”

I’d read an online story about Hishan Suleiman getting some flak from his community for taking part as Tawfiq Hamed, so I ask if he knows what it’s like for him.

“There were many Arab actors in the show. At the start when we offered them parts it was very hard to convince them it was not the bad guys and the good guys like always, that we wanted to hear their voices. Hishan Suleiman is a man of peace. Actually, two days ago he came to eat dinner with me at my house. He does live in an Israeli city, not an Arab city. And it is very complicated to be an Israeli Arab. Because on the one hand the Israelis see you as a spy inside your country, a fifth columnist, and on the other side the Palestinians think of them as traitors because they live in Israel. They are full citizens, they go to the same universities as I do.  They have money and they live well but it is complicated. So I can tell at the start it was very hard for them, but when the show went out and everyone saw it, they were very pleased about what they had done and many of them call me to make sure they are in Season Two! The actor playing the guy that was kidnapped from the mosque at the beginning really didn’t want to get involved, but now he’s so happy that he did – people keep stopping him in the street and it’s the first time they have wanted to ask him about how he acts rather than who he is playing!”

And even before the series became a hit, when they were shooting episodes in Arab villages at the height of operation Protective Edge and the conflict in Gaza in the summer of 2014, despite all the tension, the actors and crew met with nothing but kindness. “We were shooting in Arab villages and they were very welcoming, the hospitality was amazing."

Does he think then that a show like this (and perhaps hit TV comedy  ) can make a difference? “The Israeli film industry is so powerful, perhaps just because it usually not afraid of showing bad Jews and good Arabs. Do you think art can make a difference?”

“Since our show aired, a huge number of (Jewish Israeli) people want to learn Arabic because most of the series is in Arabic. All the Arab Israelis know Hebrew but the Israelis don’t know Arabic. For me that’s amazing because the language is the bridge for peace, because you can understand and feel the other. I know Arabic and I speak with Arab Israelis all the time on the street and it’s totally different when you hear Arabs and understand what they’re talking about, rather than thinking they are terrorists.”

By Judi Herman

Fauda, episodes five to eight, screen Sunday 15 November, followed by a Q&A session with Lior Raz; and episodes nine to 12 screen Thursday 19 November. 6pm, £12 each, £20 for both, at JW3, 341-351 Finchley Rd, NW3 6ET; 020 7433 8988. www.jw3.org.uk

JR OutLoud: In light of the 19th UK Jewish Film Festival Judi Herman speaks to actors Allan Corduner and Sarah Solemani

With the 19th UK Jewish Film Festival in full swing – with more than 80 films from over 15 countries, an impressive 50 of which are UK premieres, showing in five cities – Judi Herman speaks to a couple of names involved.

While attending the opening night gala Judi met with actor Allan Corduner and spoke to him about his role in the film chosen to open the Festival, Closer to the Moon (listen above). This dark comedy directed by Nae Caranfil is based on a true story and is set in post-war communist Romania, where a group of Jewish intellectuals stage a bank robbery and find themselves paying the price for the bravado of their extraordinary gesture – a price that bizarrely also includes a forced reconstruction of the robbery for a propaganda film, directed by Corduner’s alcoholic Flaviu. Allan talked to Judi about the film and his role in it – and also about his current role in TV’s Homeland, in which he plays a high-ranking Israeli in Berlin.

Judi also spoke to playwright and actress Sarah Solemani, who is known for her role as prim Miss Gulliver in Bad Education, and served as one of the judges of the UKJFF's inaugural Best Debut Feature Award this year. The two discussed the festival in general and Israel's film industry. Listen below.

[audio mp3="http://www.jewishrenaissance.org.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Sarah_Solemani_UKJFF_JR.mp3"][/audio]

Closer to the Moon screens on Friday 13 November, Glasgow Film Institute, G3 6RB; 0141 332 6535. www.glasgowfilm.org

UK Jewish Film Festival runs until Sunday 22 November. See their website for full details: ukjewishfilm.org