Cinema of the South: Celebrating Sderot and Kerala

Haim Watzman

Sderot was celebrating yesterday–it’s been celebrating all week, in fact. Who cares about the missiles coming over from Gaza when you can catch a good flick–lots of them? The Cinema South Festival, held in Sderot each year under the sponsorship of the film school at adjacent Sapir College, is one of the most stimulating, and heart-warming cultural events on Israel’s calendar.

The day’s only Red Alert happened just as we emerged from our rental car next to the housing project where my daughter, Mizmor (finishing up her first year in the animation program) lives. We scurried to safety–well, it’s all relative–under one of the building’s outdoor stairwells until, seconds later, we heard a distant boom.

After dropping off some home-cooked food in her apartment, we drove over to the Sderot Cinematecque. The festival was in full swing. “South” here doesn’t mean Alabama and Georgia-it means Israel’s poor, forgotten, and bombarded Negev region. Sapir students were quaffing beers and muching on sandwiches and sticky sweets while a Kerala band played songs that sent my wife Ilana-whose late father grew up in Bombay, after his family moved there from Baghdad-into dreamy nostalgia.

Kerala? This year’s festival matched up Israel’s south with India’s south. Keralan director Adoor Gopalakrishnan was on hand for the screening of three of his films. After coffee and sandwiches–I didn’t touch the free Indian sweets since, unfortunately, I was a bit doubtful about their kashrut–we went inside to see Golpalakrishnan’s Shadow Kill  (which I’ll write more about later this week).

The announcement before the film was: “If there is a Red Alert, stay in your places. The screening will continue.”

In his remarks after the film, Golpalakrishnan praised the student films screened that afternoon (we’d planned to catch them, but a flat tire and subsequent complications delayed us). He was particularly surprised and gratified, he said, to see that students were making humorous films under fire.

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