- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2008

REHOVOT, Israel | Despite the growing anxiety in Israel about Iran’s nuclear program and its renewed calls for the demise of the Jewish state, five Iranian-made movies are headlining an Israeli international film festival on women and film this week.

The movies, which are playing to sold-out crowds at the International Women’s Film Festival in this Tel Aviv suburb, share a focus on the struggles of women in a society run by a fanatic Islamic regime.

Festival director Anat Shperling Cohen said her focus on Iranian films during a time of escalating tension carries a political subtext for a country in which the Iranian leadership often is compared to Nazi Germany.

“The only thing that we hear about Iran is [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. All we hear is that Iran is a big threat,” she said.

“We don’t get to know the people. We don’t get to know the citizens. We don’t get to know the women. We thought that if we showed movies by women about everyday life, we will be able to see Iran from a different angle.”

The films include a documentary, an animated feature and trilogy of short stories.

They feature plots about a polygamous family in the countryside, the impact of the Islamic revolution on the daughter of urban socialists, and the challenges to a woman who seeks to enter a bicycle race.

Miss Shperling Cohen said the films from the Muslim world rarely make their way onto screens in Israel.

Asked whether the festival had received any complaints about highlighting Iranian films, she insisted that she had not. In the past, Israelis have objected to interviews with Hamas officials on state-run radio.

“I hope the fear from that unknown that they call Iran will lessen,” Miss Shperling Cohen added. “They’ll see people like us. We’re all made from the same stuff.”

The focus on the status of women in Iran could lend itself to further demonization of the Shi’ite theocratic society.

However, a feature-length documentary, “Four Wives - One Man,” portrayed a snapshot of Iranian women that was anything but monolithic.

Tel Aviv University professor Liora Handelman noted the high literacy rate of Iranian women, who tend to marry about a decade after the legal minimum age of 13.

“If there is something that I don’t want to come out of this is conclusion that women are victims held hostage by the rule of the mullahs,” she said.

In an essay prepared for the festival, Ada Ushpiz, an Israeli documentary filmmaker, whose film on polygamy among the Bedouin in Israel also is being screened, noted that the phenomenon is much more marginal in Iran than what Israel’s government tolerates among the Bedouin.

The Iranian films at the festival have received decent coverage in local media. At least part of the popularity of the films is spurred by the curiosity among Israelis toward a country whose leadership is considered a pariah.

Aside from the constant diet of reports about Iran’s nuclear program, there are constant anti-Israel quips of Mr. Ahmadinejad.

On Thursday, the Iranian president raised hackles again.

“I have heard some say the idea of Greater Israel has expired,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said, the Associated Press reported from Tehran. “I say that the idea of lesser Israel has expired, too.”

Nevertheless, many Israelis don’t view Iran as a historic or even a natural enemy.

The countries have no territorial dispute and had no bilateral ties before to the 1979 revolution.

“It’s a chance to see a land and people that you can’t visit,” Reut Borochov said. “I would travel there if possible.”

Iran also has the largest population of Jews in the Middle East and there is a sizable community of Persian Jews in Israel.

“There are people that want to present Iran as an existential threat,” said Michal Borochov, Mr. Borochov’s mother, “and use it as an excuse for dealing with real things.”

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