Although Free Zone did not premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, it was released only a few weeks beforehand and due to its content and themes, editors decided it would fit best in the context of these reviews and articles.

There is a reason acclaimed Israeli director Amos Gitai’s latest commentary on the condition of our beloved Israel went quietly into the night even with the addition of Natalie Portman to his cast. While Portman does outshine everyone and everything on screen and though she certainly gets credit for making the résumé sacrifice in the spirit of embracing her heritage, Free Zone does nothing for her in return. It rehashes the same old, however correct, sentiment that the conflict between Jews and Arabs when broken down into individual face to face encounters can become manageable. Only on the mob scale is it impossible to solve. The story is of a female Israeli taxi driver with Portman as her despondent fare, traveling to an actual location known as the Free Zone in Jordan, where Israelis and Arabs conduct business. It appears as though Gitai made the film just to give the Free Zone some publicity because the story lazily constructed around it is difficult to endure.

Director Amos Gitai (Alila, Kippur) comes from a prominent Jewish dynasty. His father comes from Galicia and his mother descends from the Luria family and its most famous sage, the Ari’zal of Tzfat. His grandfather is buried in Tzfat.

We spoke with Gitai about the experience making Free Zone:

Q: It seems Israeli filmmakers are always giving voice to the Palestinian cause. Does it ever work the other way around?

A: They should do it. As Jews, we should be sensitive to others. We could wish for them to be similar. But even if they are not, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our part. It does not undermine our responsibility.

Q: Chad Gadia was used prominently in the film. How did you make the connection?

A: My mother was a Bible teacher for kids in school. She did this in Vienna in the late 1920’s. She always was a very strong inspiration as far as Bible and all Aggadic texts. Something in this speaks about the past, but it also speaks about the future. There is vitality to it. If we look at the Old Testament it means always the text is critical, not flowery or angelic. The writer, who you believe is divine, but I will call Him the writer, and the prophets are made less real by the media, but the writer shows corruption, and abuses of power, and a certain attitude to the poor. Chad Gadia talks about the cycle of butchering and burning, and then the water – there are successive acts – and actually how do we come out of the cycle? Chava Alberstein, the great Yiddish singer, added lyrics to the text for the film. Natalie Portman really enjoyed this music.

Q: Speaking of Portman, I have read that she did this film to try and connect to something from her homeland. How did you help her do this?

A: We did a lot of conversations – traveling, seeing the country. She had visited before. She had been studying that year in Hebrew U and spent several months brushing up on her Hebrew (Natalie does speak Hebrew at times in the film). I was just happy she contacted us. She is a great actress so of course I was happy.

Q: Because the cast is American, Israeli, and Palestinian, what were the relationships like on set when the cameras stopped rolling?

A: Good…good. This is the first Israeli film shot in an Arab country. In the beginning we were cautious. How will it happen? But it went well. Sometimes films or things like this can really change issues. Remember ping-pong diplomacy? We discussed these things. They took us to Qaraq in Jordan and showed us where the houses of the Jews were in the 1930’s. There was a thriving Jewish community there. Maybe we can relate to these people not just through war. We saw Mount Nabor and all these places that we read about in our Jewish Old Testament. 


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