Feminists in Focus:Reporting back from the New York Jewish Film Festival ‘My So-Called Enemy’ and ‘The Human Resources Manager’

At the 20th New York Jewish Film Festival presented by The Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center (through Jan. 27).

Don’t expect a feel-good movie from “My So-Called Enemy” – the documentary following Jewish Israeli and Palestinian teen-age girls in the U.S. for a 10-day “Building Bridges for Peace” program back in 2002.

Director Lisa Gossels has dedicated a chunk of her life to following six of the 22 girls to the leadership retreat in New Jersey then back home to Tel Aviv, Haifa, East Jerusalem and the West Bank over the next seven years.

The 90-minute documentary opens with urgent texting between Jewish Israeli Gal and Christian Palestinian Rezan. It ends with their determination to remain connected as they stand dwarfed by a towering cement security wall separating Rezan’s village from East Jerusalem. Gal, the pro-Palestinian rebel in her religious family, has become a sergeant in the Israeli army. She changed out of her uniform for the meeting.

Not a pretty picture, but not without hope.

Some of girls bond their first day in New Jersey over the weirdness of American broccoli pizza. In a joyous dance scene, some of the Jewish girls overcome their fear of the kaffiya’s symbolism, with one girl seductively waving it as she undulates to the music. Quite a moment since they’re all coming out of the bloody violence on all sides of the Second Intifada.

Because of the Intifada, that year’s Building Bridges for Peace program was not typical. Program founder Melodye Feldman and her team could attract only Jewish girls who were leftist, not the usual political mix. And it’s disheartening to see these idealistic, articulate girls brought to tears. A delicate looking but determined Palestinian teen from Haifa tells Gal to go back where she came from. When Gal explains her family is from Iran, she was born in Israel, and her family can’t go back to Iran, her interrogator couldn’t care less.

Back in Haifa, the young Palestinian eventually becomes religious, saying she feels like a princess with her head covered in a veil and her long dress. She meets a like-minded Palestinian in an online chat room for Palestinians in Israel but ends the relationship to study in Jordan. She’s someone we’d like to see in another seven years.

One teen with butch haircut, multiple piercings and non-obvious tattoos is a gutsy East Jerusalemite determined to work for peace. When people tell her they can’t believe she’s Palestinian, she says she responds: “Well, dude, I am.”

A cause for hope: the information at the film’s end reports that several of the women – Jewish and Palestinian – are with organizations working for peace.

The Building Bridges program is evolving. For years it was only for young women. Now it includes teen males learning to work with women in getting over stereotypes.

Note: “My So-Called Enemy” is making the festival rounds. It screens in New York City on Tuesday, Jan. 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the JCC in Manhattan.

Some movies you should just come upon, no preconceptions.

“The Human Resources Manager” is one of those films. Based on a novel by A.B. Yehoshua (“A Woman in Jerusalem”), it is the story of the human resources manager at a Jerusalem bread factory who’s stuck accompanying back to Romania the body of an employee killed in a suicide bombing.

Only the deceased has a name. Otherwise it’s “the human resources manager,” his boss “the widow,” the manipulative reporter “the weasel.” And in Romania, it’s the Israeli consul, her Romanian husband the vice consul, and the deceased’s nameless family.

This 2010 Israeli-Romanian-German-French production directed by Eran Riklis captures the texture of daily life terrorism and its victims. “Pizzeria?” asks the morgue man, identifying the dead by bombing location. “No, shuk (market),” says the human resources manager. And if you think life in Israel is grim, wait till you see Romania – dark, brutal. Makes you feel that a quick death in the holy land is better than slow death in Romania.

Are we seeing a road movie with a life of its own? Who would’ve expected dark humor along the way.

Hopefully, Israel’s entry of the film in this year’s Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film will attract a distributor. Meanwhile, the JCC in Manhattan is showing “The Human Resources Manager” on Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m.

-Amy Stone