AJFF Review: Shorts Bring Ethiopian Experience Alive
ArtsAtlanta Jewish Film Festival

AJFF Review: Shorts Bring Ethiopian Experience Alive

The first of four shorts programs at the 2018 festival also weaves together embroidery and the West Bank.

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

One of the beautiful images from "Shimala" is a dream of flying to Israel from Ethiopia on the back of a stork.
One of the beautiful images from "Shimala" is a dream of flying to Israel from Ethiopia on the back of a stork.

The first program of shorts at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival is composed of five films that tell two stories about Israel, offer a fun music video and show one way that women of all faiths around the world connect with the Torah.

The first two films, the nine-minute “Shimala” and 13-minute “Habesha,” focus on Israel’s Ethiopian community.

“Shimala” is a cartoon, and although the animation is basic, it works to convey the simple, emotional, true story of a mother who has fulfilled her dream of living in Israel but is heartbroken that her daughter has been left behind in Africa. Be prepared for a heart-rending ending.

In some ways, “Habesha” tells the rest of the Ethiopian-Israeli story. People who made the journey out of Africa to become Israelis, as well as a representative of the next generation, describe how the tough reality compares with their heavenly dreams of Jerusalem and life in their homeland.

It’s important for Israel’s supporters to see one of the areas in which the country can do better, but the film, part of the Jerusalem Film Workshop, presents any criticism from a place of love.

The program takes a dramatic turn when its longest film, the 30-minute “Across the Line,” hits the screen. The line in question is the Green Line, and the story of a religious settler trying to get home before Shabbat and a Palestinian hitchhiking to see his pregnant girlfriend takes place entirely in the West Bank.

It’s a fun, silly comedy with a sweet message of coexistence. The two central actors, David Shaul and Jalal Mashwa, are excellent as they try to deal with their preconceptions about their neighbors.

Participants in the Torah Stitch by Stitch project connect sections in “Stitchers: Tapestry of Spirit.”

The longest film in the program is followed by its shortest, “Chad Gadya,” in which the Passover classic, sung by Cantor Moishe Oysher, is brought to life through animated embroidery. The stop-motion animation is particularly fun when it runs backward, restoring life each step of the way.

The program closes with a 16-minute documentary about the Toronto-based Torah Stitch by Stitch project, “Stitchers: Tapestry of Spirit.” It’s an amazing effort: more than 1,500 people, most of them women, working in more than 20 countries to turn the Torah into a tapestry, four verses at a time.

The project’s participants include multiple generations, Muslims and Catholic nuns. The completed Torah will be as long as a football field.

It’s a surprising, positive end to Shorts Program 1.

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