Depression-era photojournalist once said that “the camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera,” a sentiment presciently expressed in the latest film by Israeli filmmaker Orit Fouks Rotem with her new project, “Cinema Sabaya.”
The film, which is Israel’s official selection for the Oscars, depicts a group of eight women of various Arab and Jewish backgrounds (as well as different ages and economic standings) who enroll in a video workshop in an effort to express themselves amid societal turmoil.
“I wrote characters based on women I met, and then changed it after meeting the actresses,” director Rotem told moderator Sharon Waxman, CEO and editor-in-chief of TheWrap, for the 2022-2023 Awards Season Screening Series. Rotem was joined on Zoom by producer Maya Fischer and actors Dana Ivgy and Joanna Said. “After meeting Joanna, a lot of her life came into the character in an emotional way. It was important to me to be very specific and not to say something about the whole society of Israel through the characters.”
The film has brought many women (and some men) to tears through its 91-minute exploration of the role of women in the tumult of modern-day Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Ivgy, the award-winning actor who plays Rona, the movie’s videography instructor who brings out these stories in the various women, has been surprised by audience.
“The responses are really strong and people tell us their stories immediately,” says Ivgy. “We have some men coming out of the film and saying, ‘What I know for sure is I’m going to be a better husband.'”
The movie was a special experience for Said, who said that creating theater as a college student during a period of divisive political discourse post-Gaza War took a real toll. “I came to Jerusalem afraid to speak Arabic because of the fears rooted in me. I felt people would be repelled by me, knowing I was Arab.”
Producer Fischer feels “we have a long way to go” but is optimistic that Jewish-Arab collaborations are looking up. “Where there are women, there is a true intimacy that can be created. I don’t think that film can change the world, but even the process of doing so can start the change.”