Israeli short-film series at CJM showcases ‘genuine people’

Thursday, May 26, 2011 | by emma silvers

Among the 20,000 people who will gather in San Francisco to celebrate Jewish community and Israel’s 63rd birthday will be many familiar faces — and several fresh ones bringing new perspectives to the anticipated annual event.

Among the newcomers is Dorit Hakim, an award-winning Israeli-born filmmaker (and current Silicon Valley resident) who has curated a series of short films from the Jerusalem-based Sam Spiegel Film and Television School.

ISG dorit hakim
Dorit Hakim photo/sharon bareket
Nine contemporary short films and animations will run in a loop from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, located at 736 Mission St., across the street from the festivities at Yerba Buena Gardens.

“I basically went through the [Spiegel] archives and picked films that I loved that were really about Israeli people — not the conflict or the army, but real Israeli people, and their lives and fears and passions,” said Hakim, herself a graduate of the Sam Spiegel School.

A native of Tel Aviv, Hakim began her career as an arts journalist for several publications in Israel, including the daily newspaper Ha’aretz. “I’ve always thought writing about other people’s lives was interesting, and I’ve always been a very curious person,” she said. “At some point as I developed as a writer and as a person, I decided I wanted to write my own stories, make up my own characters.”

In her 20s she decided to try her hand at screenwriting; after enrolling in film school she quickly fell in love with directing, as well. “I loved every part of it,” she said. “Working with actors, picking out costumes, searching for the right locations, coordinating the cameras — everything.”

Her first short film, “Small Change,” beat out an entry by Sofia Coppola for an award at the 1998 Venice Film Festival. Since then, Hakim has forged a career writing and directing for television and film in the Israeli capital.

In August, she moved with her husband, Shlomo Kramer, and their three young sons to Portola Valley, because of his work for a software firm. Their children (7-year-old twins and a 5-year-old) attend Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto. She said the transition from the pace of the city in Israel to quiet suburban life on the Peninsula has taken time to get used to.

“When I used to visit here, I would say it felt like I was on the set of ‘The Truman Show,’ ” she said with a laugh. “Everyone is so friendly here, and it’s so quiet and peaceful.” She appreciates being close to nature, which she said is great inspiration for her writing — but admitted, “I do miss the hustle of the city sometimes.”

Hakim is now starting work on her first feature film, which will be filmed in Israel; the Hebrew title translates roughly to “Moon on the Horizon.” She’s also in the beginning stages of writing a documentary about life in Silicon Valley.

As for the miniseries she curated for Israel in the Gardens, Hakim said it’s been a great way to bring part of her home — her alma mater, too — to her newly adopted community. She picked a range of films from the past 15 years and made an effort to select productions from a mix of female and male directors. Hakim’s “Small Change” appears last out of the nine shorts.

“I think a lot of the main characters in these films are trying to make a change, even if it’s a small change,” she said. “I think human stories are always the most interesting, so I tried to pick films that really captured moments in the lives of genuine people.

“My hope for Israel in the Gardens is that these films will give people who haven’t been to Israel or don’t know anything about Israel a chance to see what it’s really like — not just what you’re seeing on the news.”