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The second-annual Israeli Film Festival of College Hill begins on Saturday with the Providence premiere of the Oscar-nominated film "Ajami." For the committee of nine students who organized the festival, the seven films to be featured will serve to portray Israel in a cultural — as opposed to a political — light.

The festival committee was "born out of frustration," said Danya Chudacoff '11, its co-director, who first had the idea to start the film festival as a freshman. "Last year, there was a frustration with the way the country of Israel is discussed and appreciated on campus," she said.

"There was really no venue for students to discuss Israel in any other context" besides the political, she added.

The first Israeli Film Festival, held last year, concentrated on historic Israel. This year, the committee chose films that "gravitated toward what Israel is like on a day-to-day basis," Chudacoff said.

Jenna Zeigen '12, the committee's other co-director, said "the predominant way to look at Israel" is through a political lens. People forget that "Israel is a country in itself, with living, breathing people," she said.

"I hope this film festival can bring them to light in all their diversity," Zeigen said.

One film that highlights this diversity is "Turn Left at the End of the World," which will be shown on Feb. 14 and 18 and is co-sponsored by the Watson Institute's Year of India. In exploring the lives of Indian and Moroccan Jews in Israel, the film provides "insight into communities that people don't really know existed," Chudacoff said.

Jesse Golden-Marx '13, another member of the festival committee, will give an educational presentation at the screening. The committee is trying to address the common misconceptions that Israel is extremely orthodox or only a violent country, he said.

Another film that speaks to diversity is "A Matter of Size," a film about an Israeli who discovers sumo wrestling in Israel. The screening is co-sponsored by the Japanese Cultural Association and will be shown on Feb. 14 and 17. The film "shows there are other cultures that do exist inside of Israel," Golden-Marx said.

The festival also seeks to emphasize Tel Aviv in new ways with films like "Or (My Treasure)," a movie about prostitution and its effects on a mother-daughter relationship.

The film, which will run on Feb. 15 and 18, delves into "gender issues in Israel" and is more universally relatable, Chudacoff said. "It's day-to-day, it's human, it's one of the things that happens in a big city like Tel Aviv."

The film festival will also touch on themes that people often associate with Israel, such as political conflict and the Holocaust. "Free Zone," which will be screened on Feb. 16, is "the most political film we have," Chudacoff said. "We picked it because the film itself is a discussion."

"It's not conclusive," she added. "It just kind of exposes a certain reality and ironies of the situation."

"Free Zone" is the only film in the line-up in English. The rest are primarily Hebrew with English subtitles.

"Summer of Aviya," to be shown on Feb. 15 and 17, will explore issues surrounding the Holocaust. "We want to keep talking about it, discussing it, remembering it," committee member Sarah Levy '12 said of the Holocaust. "This is a good way to do so in an Israeli context."

The committee members worked hard to bring this year's film festival to life. "We had to write a lot of grant letters and fill out a lot of applications," Zeigen said. The committee reached out to local synagogues, campus groups, academic departments and nationwide Jewish organizations, she added.

"Our attendance last year was pretty good," Chudacoff said, adding that the committee expects an even better turnout this year. "The word is out more," she said. "There's more of an interest in it now."

The film festival has no target audience, Chudacoff said. "We want to have this discussion with everyone."

Chudacoff especially encouraged people to attend the festival's opening screening of "Ajami," which is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.

"It's the Providence premiere. The Avon doesn't even have this film yet," she added.

The committee emphasized the diversity portrayed in the film and its realistic quality. "The actors aren't professional actors. They're actual people from the neighborhood of Ajami," Zeigen said.

In choosing this Oscar-nominated film, the committee is also "showcasing success in the Israeli cinema industry, which is something to be very, very proud of," Chudacoff said.


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