Saturday, September 24, 2016

Israel/Palestine via a different, personal lens in Daum/Rudavsky's doc, THE RUINS OF LIFTA

The question of land, ownership, history and all that goes with is always problematic, no matter the location. But when the location is Palestine and Israel, this subject seems very nearly intractable. Over the years there have been a number of fine documentaries and narrative films that have tried to disentangle things -- Colliding Dreams and Rabin: The Last Day are two films that have arrived already this year -- and now we have a very small and very personal little movie that tackles the issue via one single location, Lifta, the only Palestinian village abandoned during the 1948 Arab-Israel war that has not yet been destroyed or repopulated by Jews.

As conceived and directed by Menachem Daum, (shown at left on the poster, top), who appears prominently in the doc, and Oren Rudavsky (shown at right, who co-directed Colliding Dreams and, with Mr. Daum, the excellent post-Holocaust-in-Poland doc, Hiding and Seeking), the movie tracks the obsession of two men with this small abandoned village. Over the years, Mr. Daum has become increasingly concerned about Lifta because its actual story goes against much that he, as a Jew, had been taught by his elders and family about what happened there and why.

The other man, Yacoub (at right on poster, top), was a resident of Lifta who, with his family, was expelled from their home and village during the Nakba (the exodus of more than 700,000 Palestinians who were forced from or fled their homes and villages during the 1948 war).

As Mr. Daum, above, was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany to Jewish parents who had survived the Holocaust, we have a near-perfect combination of people who have suffered enormous displacement and feel powerful attachment to the same homeland. Can there be some kind of rapport and rapprochement to be made here?

Add to the mix an actual Holocaust survivor still remaining alive, an old New York woman named Dasha (shown center, above), one of the few Jewish friends of Menachem who understands his feelings about Lifta. Eventually, Dasha agrees to travel -- at her age! -- to Lifta to meet and speak with Yacoub. The resulting meeting is fraught and difficult, and seeing and hearing these thoughts and feelings pour out is rather extraordinary. Yes, this is but one example involving only two, three people, but this scene -- in fact, this entire movie, gets at the very core of the Israel/Palestine conflict.

The state of Israel is planning to turn Lifta into a real estate development for luxury housing (and not, I think, for Arabs), but protesters (above), both Arab and Israeli, are trying to save the land, with the hope of turning it into a UNESCO World Heritage site. But this would depend on approval by the Israeli government. We watch as meetings toward this goal take place, and we see Mr Daum interview various officials and citizens about the project. -- which is no shoo-in, for sure.

Don't look for resolution. There is none here. But we understand, more deeply and fully, the ideas and feelings on both sides. So we've come a step closer, at least, in this -- one of the smallest and most personal of the many Israeli/Palestinian documentaries to have been released. Also one of the most successful.

Distributed by First Run Features and lasting only 73 minutes -- the movie needs no more time to make its points -- The Ruins of Lifta opened at a single New York screen (the Lincoln Plaza Cinema) yesterday, September 23, and will arrive next month on October 28 in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Town Center 5.

Elsewhere? Nothing yet. But click here to keep up with any further scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

New York City 
personal appearances! 

On Saturday: 
a Q&A after the 
7:15 & 9:20 pm screenings, 
with the Co-director, Oren Rudavsky, 

and on Sunday: a Q&A 
after the 3:00 pm & 5:05 pm screenings 
with Co-directors Oren Rudavsky & Menachem Daum 

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