Thursday, May 05, 2011

IFF ’11: Land of Genesis

When watching a mongoose take out his hissing foe in Israel’s first nature documentary, the allegory is almost too easy to draw. Fortunately, Israel has been the scrappy mongoose, not only defending the only civilized corner of the Middle East but also preserving considerable areas of pristine nature. Moshe Alpert documents three species of mammals raising their young in the wild habitats of Israel most people never knew existed in Land of Genesis (trailer here), which screens during the upcoming 2011 Israel Film Festival in New York.

Genesis will radically change how many people think of Israel, particularly the Golan Heights, where two wolves are starting their own pack. Likewise, the Sea of Galilee probably has much different associations for viewers than as the habitat for swamp cats. At least the desert might seem like a fitting environment for exotic species, like the ibexes Alpert follows.

Director-cinematographer Alpert captures some truly dramatic footage, often from decidedly unusual angles. However, he never minimizes the life-and-death realities of the natural world. Easily his most dramatic footage captures the ibexes scrambling off their mountaintop perches when a minor earthquake causes an avalanche. Indeed, it is a sequence that might be too intense for young viewers.

Yaron London’s narration is unabashedly anthropomorphic, yet the wolves, dubbed Alon and Nufar, seem remarkably expressive to human eyes. Still, it is probably the scenes of the ibexes with their large curved horns and unforgiving mating rituals that will be most informative to American audiences. (Parents should also be warned of a brief scene of animal “husbandry.”)

Capitalizing on the arresting vistas of natural Israel, Genesis is a visually striking film. Alpert captures some up-close-and-personal scenes of survival in the wild that provide moments of genuine surprise. It also demonstrates the how seriously the State of Israel takes their stewardship of the environment. One of the better films of the recent bumper crop of wildlife documentaries, it screens this Sunday (5/8), next Wednesday (5/11), the following Sunday (5/15), and Thursday (5/19) as part of the 2011 Israel Film Festival. In an ironic way, as the first Israeli nature doc, Genesis would also make a good double feature with Navot Papushado & Aharon Kashales’subversively witty Rabies, the first Israeli slasher film (also set in a nature preserve, albeit with an old minefield hidden within) which also screens at the festival next Saturday (5/14).