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Cultural flux: ‘Arabic Movie’ explores birth, growth of Israeli film, TV industry

In 1968, 20 years after declaring statehood, Israel licensed its first commercial TV station.

Flash forward to today, and the Israeli film and TV industry is producing shows and films that are taking home awards.

In fact, Israeli TV programming is quickly snapped up by HBO, Netflix, Showtime and others, and U.S. TV hits such as “Homeland” and “In Treatment” are based on Israeli TV series.

The Santa Fe Jewish Film Festival is spotlighting some of the films from Israel.

“This year is Israel’s 70th anniversary,” says Marcia Torobin, festival director. “We wanted to put together programming that is educational as well as being told through the lens of films.”

On Sunday, June 24, the documentary “Arabic Movie” will be screened as part of the festival at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe.

The documentary follows Israeli broadcasting from its inception until now.

When broadcasting began, three of the four hours of daily TV was devoted to programming in Arabic.

In the 1967 war, Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai, which increased the Arab population under Israeli control to nearly 1.5 million. This was in addition to a sizable Arabic-speaking Jewish population. As a result of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948-49 and subsequent conflicts, an estimated 800,000 Jews were forced out of or left ancestral homes in Arab countries. Of these, approximately 600,000 settled in Israel.

“It wasn’t just Arabic speakers, though, who were drawn to the films,” Torobin says. “There was a following among Israel’s Ashkenazi (European descent) population, and even political figures such as Moshe Dayan were huge fans.”

Torobin says planning for the programming was a delight, because of the number of films the organizers were able to look at.

“We had a lot of great films to select from,” she says. “We weren’t looking for a film like this. ‘Arabic Movie’ just came our way. It’s an interesting piece looking at the Israeli history in film and TV.”

After the screening, the pilot episode of “Srugim,” an Israeli TV show, will screen.

The show is described as an Isreali “Sexy and the City” of sorts, with its cast of characters being young Orthodox Jews.

“It’s just a sweet TV series, and we thought it would be a good contrast,” she says.

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.



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