Friday, January 17, 2014

NYJFF ’14: The Women Pioneers

The State of Israel was built by women.  Men too, but the pre-1949 kibbutz scene was truly an early feminist incubator.  However, the ideologically charged women who immigrated to the future Israel still endured plenty of hypocrisy and frustration.  Michal Aviad tells their stories through the diaries of ardent kibbutz residents in The Women Pioneers (a.k.a. Women/Pioneers, trailer here), which screens during the 2014 New York Jewish Film Festival.

The hardcore Left’s kneejerk hostility to Israel is absolutely baffling, given its revolutionary and feminist roots.  After all, the kibbutz is essentially a collective farm.  Several of the featured pioneers were explicitly inspired by prominent women leaders of the Russian Revolution.  Of course, these strong-willed women were rather disappointed to learn their kibbutz’s governing council was entirely dominated by men.  They were also less than thrilled to be saddled with all the “domestic” chores, while equally resenting their exclusion from defensive duties during the uprisings.  As they asserted themselves, these policies slowly started to change, to an extent.

It is probably safe to say all the women diarists express mixed emotions on their kibbutz experience.  Not surprisingly, the whole liberated approach to sexuality seemed to work out a lot better for the men than the women.  Despite the ideological commitment of Aviad’s POV figures, the documentary often highlights the inherent weaknesses of the communal economic model.  That it worked at all is probably a testament to the dedication and fortitude of the early pioneers.

Aviad and research associate Tamar Katz assembled some striking archival photos that well suit the dramatic journal entries.  With co-writer Era Lapid, she conveys a vivid sense of kibbutz life, but they provide little context on the existential threats posed by growing anti-Semitic violence during the time of the Hebron Massacre and the 1936 riots. Still, there is a poignancy to the personal dramas that sustains the film.

At its svelte fifty-one minute running time, The Women Pioneers is easily digestible and its schedulability ought to merit serious consideration from PBS programmers.  Respectfully recommended for those intrigued by Israel’s pre-official statehood history, it screens twice at the Walter Reade this coming Tuesday (1/21) with the short film, I Think This is the Closest to How the Footage Looked.