AJFF Recommends: Film Picks for Israel at 70


As Israel turns 70, AJFF celebrates the only way we really know how, through film. We asked a handful of AJFF stakeholders their favorite three films, Hollywood, Israeli, or otherwise, to add to your watch lists for this landmark anniversary.

Matthew Bernstein, Goodrich C. White Professor, Chair, Department of Film and Media Studies, Emory University

Above and Beyond (2014)

This exhilarating account of the mostly American World War II veteran pilots, who at great risk nonetheless decided to aid air force-less Israel during its 1948 battles of independence, left me breathless. Combining historic newsreels, interviews, photos and re-enactments, Above and Beyond plays like a true-life Indiana Jones-style adventure story. The surviving pilots are born storytellers who recount with passion, humor and the occasional well-placed Yiddish-ism their maneuvers (aeronautical, and even sometimes, amorous), their triumphs and their losses.

The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers (2013)

This profoundly moving documentary from Moriah Films (of The Simon Wiesenthal Center) recounts Israeli history via the leadership of Levi Eshkol (1963-1969, voiced by Leonard Nimoy) and Golda Meir (1969 to 1974, voiced by Sandra Bullock). This is vivid history reconstructed with archival footage, but more importantly guided by Ambassador Yehuda Avner, whose book formed the basis of the film and whose recall of major events (The Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War), and personal moments of triumph and anguish are overwhelmingly powerful.

Rabin in His Own Words (2015)

Using Rabin’s speeches, interviews, recollections, photos and home movies, this is a thoroughly absorbing, intimate portrait of both the introverted Israeli military hero-turned-peacemaking leader and the Israel of his time. Whether or not you know Rabin’s biography in detail, this film is fascinating.  One’s admiration for Rabin only grows after learning about the foundation he laid for the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement (against the protests of Menachem Begin, who later reaped all the glory), his anti-settlement stance, and his various peace-making efforts that he pursued until his tragic assassination.

Hannah Brown, movie critic for The Jerusalem Post

Hill 24 Doesn't Answer (1955) by Thorold Dickinson had a British producer and director, but it was written by an Israeli and it is a moving story of the outbreak of the War of Independence, with a more authentically Israeli feel than other foreign films about the birth of Israel, such as Exodus and Cast a Giant Shadow.

Avi Nesher's Rage and Glory (1984) is a controversial portrait of a group of Lehi Underground fighters in Jerusalem and it presents a fascinating glimpse of Jewish life at the end of the British mandate period.

Roberta Grossman's rousing documentary, Above and Beyond (2014), produced by Nancy Spielberg, tells the story of the American Jewish pilots who created Israel's air force and played a key role in the establishment of the state.

Nitzan Gilady, filmmaker

Thirst by Tawfic Abu Wael (2004) for giving a voice for unheard community in the Israeli cinema, this debut film is astonishing and breathtaking.

Or by Keren Yedaya (2004) for giving a life to the people who live of the fringe alongside the city of Tel-Aviv. The mesmerizing film will stay with me forever.  

The Band's Visit by Eran Kolirin (2007) for shading a light on a unique location in the Negev, unseen enough in the Israeli Cinema. The manifest film crossed all borders and depict the Israeli society in a delicate way.

Hedva Goldschmidt, Managing Director of Go2Films

Exodus (1960)

An epic film I saw for the first time as a teenager. It connects the special historical moments of the creation of Israel, from Holocaust to the fight on the land and the birth of modern Israel. The tune “This Land is Mine” still bring me to tears more than 30 years later, and we all wish our leaders would look like Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan :)

Givat Halfon Eina Ona (1976)

This cult Israeli comedy was broadcasted every Independence Day every year until today, with hundreds of thousands of Israeli quoting major parts from the film. Directed by Assi Dayan, an Israeli icon, the combination of sharp humor and representation of the Israeli characters is still standing out, 38 years after. A must see.

Ben Gurion, Epilogue (2016)   

The rare, intimate and reflective interview with Israel’s founding prime minister was filmed nearly 50 years ago, but was discovered only a couple of years ago by two ambitions filmmakers - Yariv Mozer and Yael Perov. The film is an inspiration for leadership, vision and modesty, and I'm honored to have a part in its distribution to the world.

Judith Shorer, Israel Consul General of the Southeast

Exodus (1960)

Cast a Giant Shadow (1966)

Entebbe (2018)

The first two films Exodus and Cast a Giant Shadow, emphasize the commitment of the Jews around the world who came to fight for Israel and the establishment of the state. Entebbe emphasized the ability of Israel to save its countrymen and Jews around the world.

Richard Walter, Vice President for Curriculum and Outreach, Center for Israel Education, Associate Director, Emory Institute for the Study of Modern Israel

Sallah Shabati (1964)

While not directly about the state’s founding, this classic comedy describes the hardships and struggles for immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa to Israel during the state’s early years. It was the winner of the 1965 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and was Israel’s first Oscar nominated film.

Cast a Giant Shadow (1966)

A cast led by Kirk Douglas and Angie Dickinson with cameos by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne, this Hollywood account of American army expert David “Mickey Stone” Marcus’s role in helping the fledgling Israeli Defense forces in 1948 was a Hebrew School staple during my youth in the 1980s.

Ben-Gurion, Epilogue (2016)

A film I had a chance to see and speak about at the 2017 AJFF, this recovered and restored conversation, provides great insight into Zionism and the creation and development of Israel from its legendary founding father.

Dov Wilker, Regional Director, AJC Atlanta

Exodus (1960)

Shows the essence and struggle for the creation of the modern state of Israel. Plus, I was named after the character Dov.

Sallah Shabati (1964)

A remarkable comedy that brought to life the challenges of Sephardi immigrants to Israel in its earliest years.

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

A unique and challenging animated documentary that teaches about the trauma of going to war.

AJFF thanks all who contributed to this piece.