Thursday, January 19, 2017

NYJFF ’17: Dimona Twist

Dimona was (and still is) a modest provincial town in the Negev Desert when large parties of Moroccan and Polish immigrants were encouraged to settle there. Fortunately, the Israelis are good at building quickly. Perhaps you might have heard that already. Despite what the UN and the old Administration thought, this is a good thing. Of course, starting from scratch in the hardscrabble community was not easy, especially for the girls and young women accustomed to a more cosmopolitan environment. Yet, they survived and ultimately thrived, as they explain in Michal Aviad’s documentary, Dimona Twist (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 New York Jewish Film Festival.

Among the new arrivals, the Poles were Ashkenazi and the Moroccans were Sephardi. Their parents did not mix well, which set up many a Romeo & Juliet-style romance amongst the younger generations. Life was hard regardless in Israel during the mid-1960s, especially for those who did not speak Hebrew. Yet, most of the women Aviad interviews slowly managed to find their place in the Israeli economy and society.

Yes, they also danced the twist. It seems the Moroccan Dimonians came over with particularly hip record collections. Nevertheless, the “twist” in Dimona Twist is probably overstated. In terms of theme, style, and tone DT is much more closely akin to Aviad’s Women Pioneers than a music or style doc.

Regardless, the stories of resiliency are pretty darn impressive. Again, there is a pronounced feminist dimension to Aviad’s latest film. Israel is truly a feminist nation, but in the 1960s, there were pockets like Dimona, where the more patriarchal attitudes from their old homelands (most definitely including Morocco) still held sway.

In fact, Dimona Twist represents Israel’s continuing efforts to come to terms with its complicated past, including the less than edifying aspects. Such self-examination and self-criticism is a unique manifestation of liberal democracy. Yet, viewers should really watch DT for the toughness of its subjects. They ask for no sympathy and express few regrets. Respectfully recommended for those interested in Israeli history, Dimona Twist screens twice this coming Monday (1/23) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYJFF.