Israel has drawn more column inches since the end of the Second World War than probably any other country in the world, with the exception of the United States and Russia. Everyone seems to have an opinion about Israel, often ill-informed, and most of us know precious little about its rich culture. The 4th Israeli Film Festival, held from 16-19 November, was intended to redress that with stories from a young and outward-looking country steeped in four thousand years of religious heritage.
My education started with a look at the underbelly of Tel Aviv. Yaky Yosha's Dead End Street, from 1982, is a portrait of a young prostitute who is picked up unexpectedly by a cynical and exploitative film crew tasked with documenting the challenges of rehabilitation.
Danny Verete's Yellow Asphalt is even starker. Calm, quiet and devastating, it tells three short stories of personal tragedy, brought about by the uneasy co-existence of indigenous Bedouin tribes and Jewish settlers in the Israeli desert. The focus of this outstanding film is firmly on women: the wailing widow whose child is run over by truckers; the German wife of a Bedouin prevented from going home by village elders; the Bedouin house-cleaner shunned by her Jewish employer-turned-lover when the affair is discovered.
These two films are certainly not tourism board material, to the credit of the organisers. Even Menaham Golan's upbeat Kazablan comments on the pressures of social diversity, something as relevant for Israel as for Nepal. The Israeli embassy is to be commended for a thought-provoking film festival that gave Nepalis here a glimpse into their society and culture, warts and all, through the medium of what is clearly a healthy domestic film industry. Here's hoping that other embassies organise equally compelling (free) programs.