Local students focus on film in Israel

Local students focus on film in Israel

NJ participants in the Jerusalem Film Workshop, from left, Jamie Blenden, Shira Gorelick, and Jeremy Gross. 
NJ participants in the Jerusalem Film Workshop, from left, Jamie Blenden, Shira Gorelick, and Jeremy Gross. 

JERUSALEM — The “authenticity, expression, and passion” of Israel’s movie industry were among the factors that drew three local students to the Jerusalem Film Workshop this summer. At the intensive six-week program, budding filmmakers from around the world studied and collaborated with Israel’s leading producers and directors. 

Jamie Blenden of West Orange, Shira Gorelick of Livingston, and Jeremy Gross of Elizabeth took part in the workshop, which was held June 28-Aug. 7 and was offered in partnership with the New Fund for Cinema and Television and the Jerusalem Film Festival.

They were among 22 students from countries around the world, including Panama, China, Croatia, Argentina, France, Canada, and Israel (and one other Jerseyan, Zev Rand of Teaneck), who were accepted into the highly competitive program; the cost was about $4,000, with some scholarships available.

Gorelick said that part of the workshop’s appeal for her were its creative edge and inside view of the Israeli film industry. “Israel, especially Jerusalem, is a place where citizens are actively involved in their culture instead of mere consumers of it,” she told NJJN. “Art — film specifically — is nationally funded because it is viewed as imperative to society. There is more room for authenticity, expression, and passion. You don’t have to be rich or connected to someone in the industry to get involved in Israeli film like you often have to in America.” 

Gorelick is a student of film and women’s studies at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa. Her family is affiliated with Congregation Beth El in South Orange and Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston. Her mother, Melanie Roth Gorelick, is director of the Community Relations Committee at Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. 

Working with Israeli filmmakers against the backdrop of Jerusalem was inspirational, said the three students. 

During the workshop, the participants were divided into four- or five-person crews, with each specializing in a specific aspect of filmmaking in the pre-production, production, or post-production process on documentary and narrative films.

For the documentary, Gorelick worked as her crew’s cinematographer for — and also helped direct — their documentary short, Culture Attack. The film was both a portrayal of the cultural and political climate in Jerusalem and a character piece, delving into the mind of the social advocate and artist Matan Pinkas — who stages “culture attacks,” street demonstrations to interrupt normative patterns of thought and make people think about issues and themselves differently. 

Gorelick also wrote a short fiction film, Chaya, about a young hasidic women who defies her family’s strict rules in order to explore her own curiosity. Gorelick said she was inspired to write this story “as a self-proclaimed Jewish feminist.”

Both Gross and Blenden worked on a short fiction film called Sabba (Gross as cinematographer, Blenden as sound director and editor). Blenden also helped write Sabba, which is about a boy who visits Ammunition Hill after his grandfather, a former IDF soldier, passes away. 

Blenden was also the producer of After War Tale, a short documentary about a veteran of the Six-Day War and how his experiences and memories of the conflict have shaped his life in unexpected ways. 

Gross was the sound director and editor of What Defines Me, a short documentary featuring Rami, a Palestinian living in Israel, who is a soccer coach and who teaches the importance of respecting others despite differences to his team of deaf players, both Palestinian and Israeli. 

Workshop instructors included director Tom Shoval, who, as cowriter on the film Aya, was a 2015 Academy Award nominee in the international short film category, and Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon, whose film Summer Vacation was short-listed for an Oscar nomination in that same category. 

The students lived in the Hebrew University dorms on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus campus and took production classes at the Maaleh School of Television, Film & the Arts in the center of the city.

“There is so much history everywhere you go” in Israel, said Blenden, who studies communication with a focus on film at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. His family belongs to Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David in West Orange.

“I filmed on Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem for my documentary short film, and it amazed me that the trenches are the same ones from the Six-Day War,” Blenden said. “It’s remarkable to have these historical locations preserved so future generations can learn about the history, but also being where it happened is really special.” 

For Gross, collaborating in Israel with students from so many diverse countries was a program highlight, as was its setting. “Jerusalem has a unique architecture and a rich history.”

He said he also appreciates the quality and focus of Israeli film. “Historically, Israeli cinema reflects the issues of the times. Most Israeli films aren’t made to be blockbusters but rather to convey a visual medium with a strong message.” 

Gross majors in film production at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He is affiliated with the Elmora Avenue Shul of the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth.

The workshop helped connect participants to Israel in a unique way, said Gorelick. “Being able to use Jerusalem’s historical and cultural prominence for my own creative purpose made me feel like I was more than just a tourist,” she said. “The act of using the places, people, and resources around me to tell a story feels powerful. I can go to the Kotel five times and have great experiences. But capturing it through my lens, making it a part of my work, helps me understand it in a whole new way.”

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