(JTA) — The Israeli satirical drama film “Concerned Citizen” opens with the sacrosanct rituals of a bourgeois Tel Aviv life: a robot vacuum slides gracefully across the floor; lush house plants are watered; vegetables are blended into green juice. The score from the Bellini opera “Norma” plays in the background.
Then a car alarm rudely interrupts the utopia.
It only gets worse from here for Ben and Raz, a progressive Israeli gay couple (played by actors Shlomi Bertonov and Ariel Wolf, who are also a couple in real life) living in a pristine renovated apartment in a gentrifying neighborhood in south Tel Aviv. When Ben, a landscape architect, plants a tree on their block, his seemingly innocent desire to improve the neighborhood quickly goes awry, and a series of events forces him to face his own repressed prejudices and hypocrisy.
With the tension of a thriller, “Concerned Citizen,” the second feature film by Israeli writer-director Idan Haguel, tackles the universal themes of privilege and multicultural tension in gentrifying cities, using the hyper-specific lens of Neve Sha’anan — the south Tel Aviv neighborhood that’s home to many of the country’s foreign workers and asylum seekers, as well as the city’s notoriously rundown (but culturally vibrant) Central Bus Station.
After making its world premiere last year at the famed Berlin International Film Festival, the movie debuts in select U.S. theaters on Friday and will also be available to rent on Amazon and Apple TV+.
Ben and Raz’s apartment, a hot commodity in one of the world’s most expensive cities, is the axis around which much of the drama revolves. In one scene, a French-Jewish woman looks into buying the apartment sight unseen. Their neighbors include both the extremely vulnerable and the privileged: immigrants from Eritrea in one apartment, and a writer plotting his move to Berlin with his foreign wife in another.
Idan Haguel spoke with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about the film and his personal connections to it. After losing his suitcase, Haguel chatted on his phone from a cafe in Berlin before heading to New York for the film’s American release.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
JTA: Tell me a little about yourself and how you became a filmmaker.
IH: I was born in the suburban city Rishon LeTsiyon and I always didn’t know what to do with my life. After the army I decided to go to film school. I wanted to be a scriptwriter, to do comedies. I discovered filmmaking, directing, and I gradually fell in love with that part. Then after school, I became a journalist because I couldn’t make a film — it was very difficult for me to get into that world. When my journalism career ended abruptly by the closing of the magazine, I decided that it’s now or never. I made my first feature film, that was a film called “Inertia.” That film is based on childhood memories of my grandparents. My grandparents were immigrants from Lebanon, Romania and Thessaloniki in Greece.
“Concerned Citizen” is partially about immigration. Why was it important to you to focus on the immigrant experience?
I was drawn into the irony, and, some may say, hypocrisy of living in a country that historically was formed by the narrative of [the Jew] being the immigrant of the world, not accepted into other countries, that in some ways still holding that grudge against countries that weren’t receptive to the immigrant Jew and pushed immigrants out. Of course, there is the horror story of Germany and the Holocaust and that’s the extreme end of mistreating “the other.” So living in a country formed by immigrants, [contrasted with] the way we behave to immigrants who are not part of the ethos of the Jewish immigrant narrative — I was drawn into that irony, although it wasn’t an intellectual process. It was more based on the experience of living in that neighborhood in south Tel Aviv, being marinated in the dilemmas and the daily complexity of living in Neve Sha’anan as a bourgeois, middle class person. After a few years I wanted to comment on that. I wanted to be brutally honest with myself and about myself. So my daily life and the life of my neighbors and friends became the material with which I wrote this fictional movie.
And you shot the film in your old apartment!
That was the mindfuck of the whole production, because I made the story close to me but I left a distance. I used my experience but I created these characters who are very close but very different. I shot the therapy scenes in my therapist’s clinic. I shot the building scenes in my building on my street. Everything became very, very close and it was really an “Alice in Wonderland” experience. Looking into a mirror and everything is morphing and making you look different and look differently at yourself and your life.
Can you talk about the south Tel Aviv neighborhood where the film is set, Neve Sha’anan?
It’s the outskirts of the center of Tel Aviv. It was always an immigrant neighborhood. But it changed over the years, it became working immigrants. In the 90s, there were the Romanian immigrants, and then it was Chinese immigrants who came to work in Israel. And over the last 15 years it has become immigrants from Africa, combined with older people who have lived there years and new people who are the more gentrifiers of the neighborhood, artists and gay people and those who are more economically stable. So now the neighborhood is comprised of sex workers, immigrants, junkies, dealers, and gay people. It’s a mix, but the prices have gone low, and people who didn’t have enough money to buy property in the city center started buying there. So the neighborhood has this tension of people who want to live a more bourgeois life, but they’re in the middle of the neighborhood with people who don’t have rights, who are immigrants, who don’t know if tomorrow the government will kick them out. People from all over the world. But it’s become a haven for investors and the neighborhood is in the middle of being gentrified and changed.
So it’s a very interesting setting to live in and to make a film in. It’s very dense. It’s one of the less homogenic and more diverse areas in Israel. Israel prides itself on the diversity of Jewish people coming from Arab countries, coming from Europe. But they’re all Jewish and they share a common mentality and they’re all citizens of Israel. Neve Sha’anan is more diverse – it’s people from India, China, Eritrea, Sudan, the Ivory Coast. I feel it’s a missed opportunity by Israeli society that instead of accepting these people legally and into our society, they are trying to hold back and fight against it. It’s also very ironic that Israel is becoming a state that aspires to have a government like this. It’s mind-boggling. It’s like, we learned nothing from history and our own history. It’s like people don’t want to connect dots. They just want to see the cruel history that they experienced as the Jewish people and feel like it was something personal that happened to them, and like they cannot be the victimizers at all.
You’ve said that this film is very much about the idea of who’s the victim and who’s the victimizer.
When you raise yourself and your children on the narrative of being a victim and perpetuating historical trauma it’s very hard to notice other people’s traumas, and the fact that you are creating traumas for other people. Because you’re constantly in trauma and you’re always dealing with your own trauma and you’re always the victim and you’re the center of the world, but you are not the center of the world. I think it should change. But no one cares what I think! Sometimes I don’t care about what I think.
What was the casting process like?
The casting process was through meeting people and going to plays. [I turned to] the Holot theater company to cast the Eritrean community in Israel. It was cast mainly by meeting actors from the group, having conversations with them. Basically they wanted to participate in the film and I was very lucky about that. They’re a group that used to be based in Holot outside of a temporary incarceration open prison for immigrants who don’t have permits to stay in Israel. They put them in an open prison in the desert close to the Negev.
There’s an interesting scene between the French-Jewish woman (played by Flora Bloch) who is trying to move to Israel and Ben that I thought was a very revealing moment about the ways that Jewishness is expressed when Jews are a minority in the country versus when they are the majority in the country. The French woman is concerned by France’s antisemitism and wants to move to Israel, while Ben is tortured by the complexities of living as a privileged Jewish Israeli person. Can you say something about what that scene meant to you?
One of the things I’m proud about this film is that I feel like it deals with subjects which are not easy subjects to address. But I think we managed to create a balance between comedy and drama that I’m very proud of. I think it allows the film to be self explanatory. It can reveal its deep themes and make you think, in an entertaining way. Again, it’s about irony. It’s about hypocrisy. It’s about human nature. Knowing how to experience your own point of view, and being unable to be in another person’s point of view. It’s human nature, and it’s ever-fascinating to me.
And it also happens to me a lot of times with the fact that I can be in my own shoes and identify my own narrative so much but it’s hard for me to even experience a person who is experiencing the same thing as me but in a different language in different settings. But the resemblance is there so it’s very ironic. And I think that scene is about that.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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