SOPAC and JCC to host Amsellem’s Israeli film series

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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The opportunity to experience a handpicked series of foreign films about Israeli culture, all directed by Israeli filmmakers, is now available to cinema enthusiasts and history buffs at the South Orange Performing Arts Center and the JCC MetroWest in West Orange as part of “La Cinematheque Film Club,” hosted by South Orange filmmaker Gerard Amsellem.

The series features screenings of five films in each location; at SOPAC these include: “Cup Final” on Sept. 25, “Time of Favor” on Oct. 16, “Or (My Treasure)” on Nov. 20, “Waltz with Bashir” on Dec. 18, and “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” on Jan. 22. Films to be shown at the JCC include “Kippur” on Sept. 21, “The Syrian Bride” on Sept. 28, “Walk on Water” on Oct. 19, “My Father My Lord” on Oct. 26, and “The Kindergarten Teacher” on Nov. 2.

Amsellem, an artist, filmmaker and educator, chose all the films for both series and will provide extensive background information and notes for each film, as well as give an introduction and lead a post-screening discussion after each.

Amsellem is no stranger to exploring the films of other time periods and cultures; since 2011, he has curated a film series exploring the diverse facets of culture in Spain, Germany, Russia, France and Japan, to name a few.

After each screening, the filmmaker will provide a question-and-answer session to discuss the cinematic qualities of the film, as well as the director’s importance and the global influence of their works.

In developing his latest series of Israeli films, Amsellem said he was fascinated by the number of important films that have come out of such a small country.

“Israel is a very tiny country and we talk about Israel a lot. Since the 1980s, there have been a lot of filmmakers coming from Israel, and there are very strong films connected to everything from political affiliations to questions of existential beliefs,” Amsellem said in a recent phone interview with EssexNewsDaily. “People talk about films from Japan, France, Italy — why not this small country where these conversations are always happening?”

Amsellem said that the films explore topics such as war, the Palestinian conflict, peace, the Syrian border conflict, as well as social issues and many other subjects.

In addition to exploring a new country for his latest series, Amsellem will also expand to a new location, the JCC MetroWest in West Orange.

“SOPAC is my home base and I have built a nice following of filmgoers in that venue, but I wanted to try expanding this latest series to the Jewish community, and the JCC MetroWest was willing to let me use their space to show these films,” he said. “My goal is to expand this educational program to a larger base, and show people what good quality cinema is and, that for the community, it is a very big plus.”

As he did previously with his Iranian film series, Amsellem will also bring an expert speaker to select screenings to provide greater social and political context at the conclusion of each film.

“I knew that I wanted to have a speaker for this series, so I called around to different temples and institutions looking for someone who would be willing to come, and eventually I contacted Rutgers University and was put in touch with professor Muli Peleg,” Amsellem said.

Samuel “Muli” Peleg is a professor and researcher who specializes in conflict analysis and resolution, negotiation, decision making, leadership, and intercultural and interorganizational communication. He is currently the Rutgers University Political Science Department’s director of development for the newly established master’s program in United Nations and global policy studies, as well as the director of the exchange program between Rutgers and Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan.

The author of several books and articles about his areas of expertise, Peleg has been a top adviser on leadership and negotiations to the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv, Israel. In this capacity he had taken part in several rounds of peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as Israelis and Jordanians. He has also counseled the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Office and the National Security Council. Currently, Peleg serves as a fellow and board member of the Realizing the Dream Foundation, which works to carry on the work of Martin Luther King Jr. Peleg also serves on the advisory board of The Justice Project, which works to improve the world.

Peleg’s educational and professional background made him the perfect candidate to discuss the various layers that will be explored in the films that Amsellem has chosen for the series.

“I am a political sociologist, and when I teach I use a lot of film clips to explain social, political and cultural aspects of the material because these are abstract concepts,” Peleg said in a recent phone interview with EssexNewsDaily. “My role is to add social cultural and political context and supply people with additional layers and interpretations of the films. My expectation is that people will get much more than the film, they will get the context and the social framework in which those movies were made and be able to understand more profoundly the implications of each film.”

Peleg said he teaches a course at Rutgers that examines Israeli culture through the lens of cinema, and believes that participation in film discussions like those curated by Amsellem can take the cinematic and learning experience to a new level.

“I think that the experience of showing a movie and discussing it is very fulfilling and very rich because, when you highlight all kinds of nuances and angles, it brings a broader perspective and helps the audience reach new heights with the film,” he said. “It becomes more than what you see, but rather how you see it, and it can enrich how you see them and you can watch even familiar films and discover them anew.”

For more information on the film series and how to purchase tickets, visit

Photos Courtesy of Gerard Amsellem