[dc]“A[/dc] great movie is one that is not necessarily well made, but one that you can’t get out of your mind,” says the Israeli director Udi Aloni of the award-winning Junction 48. This is what he hopes for with this film that addresses the contemporary rap music scene in the Tel Aviv suburb of Lod. The only Palestine-themed film at Tribeca Film Festival this year was far better than unforgettable, and actually garnered the Best International Narrative Feature award. The jury proclaimed, “This award goes to a phenomenal, stand-out, powerful, thoughtful movie. It offers a new perspective and insightful approach to a story about how to be different and live together.”
The highly expressive Aloni, who directed the unforgettable Local Angel back in 2002, has a firm grip on the realities of the Palestinian struggle. This film follows Kareem (Tamer Nafar) the ‘first Arab rapper’ who when confronted about his lyrics says he’s not political, just writing about his real life.
The Israeli city of Lod was once the Palestinian city of Lyd, a town where a railway passed through. The film gets its title from the fact that in 1948, tens of thousands of Palestinians were exiled from Lyd, shipped out on rails in order to resettle the town with Jews. It’s now become a mixed city with severe crime, drugs and prostitution, and of course a heavy police presence. Kareem’s parents are concerned about directing their son away from these temptations. They are musicians who perform traditional music in contrast to their sons rap style.
One scene shows them performing at a political meeting with photos of Lenin on the wall. Kareem is close to his father, who plays the harp instrument, the kanoun. When his father dies in a tragic car crash, his mother seemingly overcompensating for the heavy loss, becomes a faith healer and mind reader, ‘treating’ the local superstitious community. After it appears she is becoming obsessed with her newfound panacea, Kareem says, “I’d rather have her as a communist than a faith healer.”
The highly expressive Aloni, who directed the unforgettable Local Angel back in 2002, has a firm grip on the realities of the Palestinian struggle
The film is inspired from the real life experiences of musician Tamer Nafar, who co-wrote and acted in the movie. Tamer, who started the Arab hip-hop movement in 2000, was also featured in Local Angel along with his group called DAM. The film also featured Aloni’s well known activist mother, Shulamit, who appears in a memorable scene with Arafat when he was barricaded in his office building just before he died. She passed away just two years ago and Udi dedicated this film to her in memory of her activism including ‘single-handedly making homosexuality legal in Israel.”
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The action-packed film has a contemporary music soundtrack but often when traditional music is used it dissolves into rap music in a very clever musical way. Showing the continuity of culture, and the integration of rap in a traditional society, Junction 48 uses music to underscore the daily challenges of life as second class citizens. Kareem’s next door friend gets involved in drug dealing and when his house is bulldozed, his stash is destroyed. Unable to pay off his drug supplier, he meets an unfortunate end. His friends give a concert on the pile of rubble left from his home.
Before the film was screened at Tribeca, the director dedicated it to the late Juliano Mer Khamis, actor, director and founder of the Jenin Freedom Theater. He reminded the audience of the time he showed Juliano’s powerful film, Arna’s Children back in 2004 at Tribeca. Uloni credited Juliano with teaching him how to ‘dance the move of the bi-national culture.” Juliano’s Jewish mother, Arna, was the founder of the Theater and the focus of the film. His Palestinian father, along with mother, were both communists in the early founding of the state of Israel, and Juliano used to say facetiously, that he “embodies the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Director Udi Aloni along with the 3 lead actors answered questions at length after the screening. They emphasized how the last scene of the film appeared ominous about women’s rights. Uloni, most likely influenced by his mother’s activism, stated we must “take off our ideological glasses. It’s not only that Palestinians are good, and Israelis bad. There is not one story, or one narrative. There is also a fight for women’s rights. How do you fight for both things? You can’t fight for gay rights and say f___ the Palestinians.”
When asked if he had trouble filming in Israel, he ironically replied “I’m a white Ashkenazy Jew in Israel. It’s pure democracy for me. But more and more of this will disappear.”
Tamer reiterated his characters role saying, “He’s not political. He doesn’t want to be political, but everything is. He stands with his friend whose house is demolished, not for political reasons, but he’s forced to be political. He has to find humanity, he wants to feel like a human being, fall in love. Young Arabs want to find normalcy through their own music.”
Junction 48 is what the director hoped for “a movie you can’t get out of your mind.”