Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Other Israel ’09: Sayed Kashua—Forever Scared

Sayed Kashua is an Arab-Israeli novelist and screenwriter who writes in Hebrew, which puts him in a very exclusive literary fraternity. That notoriety emerges as a source of both pride and fear for the celebrated writer in Dorit Zimbalist’s, Sayed Kashua—Forever Scared (trailer here), a documentary profile screening during the 2009 Other Israel Film Festival.

Kashua worries his time spent writing the Israeli television series Arab Labor (episodes of which will also screen at this year’s Other Israel Fest) has distracted him from writing a Nobel Prize winning novel. Indeed, Kashua worries about many things, often not without reason. For many Arab-Israelis, Kashua is a collaborating Uncle Tom. Conversely, many Jewish Israelis buy Kashua’s books and attend his lectures, but balk at his aggrieved politics. As a result, he feels uneasy about nearly every aspect of his life.

Truly, Kashua appears to have elevated neurosis to an art form worthy of a Woody Allen. Though wholly sympathetic, Zimbalist’s portrait of Kashua is not always flattering. He deserves credit for at least engaging in dialogue with Israeli students and readily acknowledging the Holocaust and other historical injustices visited upon the Jewish people. Yet, he strictly hews to traditional Palestinian notions of victimhood. On a more personal level, his family life often seems more than a little strained, arguably as a result of his self-absorbed artistic temperament.

Zimbalist clearly establishes Kashua’s critical standing on the world literary scene and captures several revealing moments with the writer. Along the way, Scared documents some telling ironies, like the fact it has primarily been Jewish film festivals that have programmed Arab Labor outside of Israel.

Throughout Scared, Zimbalist records Kashua’s abundant anxieties, but never questions if he fears the right things. Regardless, the film offers an intriguing look at one of Israel’s unlikeliest but highly esteemed Hebrew writers, in a manageable fifty-six minute running time. It screens Saturday (11/14) at Cinema Village and Sunday (11/15) at the JCC in Manhattan.