Abour Prof. Amir Har-Gil
My fields of interest and activity – directing documentary films, academic research, and teaching – stem from the same roots and have the same objectives: to contribute to a better world. This approach derives from my faith in human beings and their ability to change and engender a commitment to act according to the rules of Hillel the Elder: “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man”.
I believe that this derives from having been born and raised in Tel Aviv, to parents who managed to escape from Germany and Poland, but their families perished in the Holocaust. My parents belonged to the generation that built the State of Israel. After years of persecution and humiliation, they raised me on stories of Zionism which reinforced in me a strong commitment to pursue justice, to right wrongs and an aspiration to strive for improvements.
I grew up in Tel Aviv, attended the A.D. Gordon School for Workers’ Children and was a member of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. As a young leader in the movement, I founded a disadvantaged youths’ group, a quite innovative and unique enterprise at the time.
I served as a combat paramedic in 50th Battalion, Infantry Brigade. Luckily, my role in the army was to save lives, not to kill.
I was one of the founders of Samar, a kibbutz in the Arava region. Samar was based somewhat different beliefs and practices from those prevailing in traditional kibbutzim. We believed in full trust and cooperation; the majority could not make decisions for the individual, so that each members’ commitment and practices were based on their individual conscience.
As a youth leader I was assigned to head and coordinate one of the movements’ local branches. I chose to do my service in Kiryat Ata, a city which at the time had the highest rate of juvenile delinquency in Israel. In that framework I started a group of young workers, yet another project considered innovative at the time, when most youth movements’ members went to study and attended prestigious courses. Despite some misgivings my initiative aroused among my fellow youth leaders, I managed to lead the children in my group up to their enlistment.
After completing my studies in pedagogy, cinema and art at Hamidrasha I decided to teach in a place where my input would make a meaningful difference. I chose a school in southern Jaffa attended both by Jewish and Arab children who lived in a poor neighborhood.
The aspiration to make a difference in general and in the lives of40 children in Jaffa in particular, led me to study cinema and television at the Bet Zvi School of Performing Arts. I focused on documentary filming since I deemed feature films were by and large forms of escapism. I felt that Israel is still at a stage of consolidating its’ basic values, and I wanted to place on public agenda topics that required improvement, to make my own modest contribution to the process of shaping and improving Israeli society. Documentary cinema seemed an appropriate means to achieve this end. Right from the beginning of my studies I declared my intention to be engaged in documentary filmmaking.
I graduated Cum Laude and started to work at the public Channel 1 of the Israeli television, the only channel which existed at the time. As a cum laude graduate, a producer suggested that I direct a feature film for a fee. Before I had time to consider this attractive offer, Chayim Yavin suggested that I direct a reportage for “Mabat Sheni” (Second Glance), an investigatory program which he directed and presented. After carefully considering both opportunities I chose “Mabat Sheni” and clearly miss a unique opportunity to direct a feature film. I started working at “Mabat Sheni” where I became involved in central topics. This work included filmed investigation reportages about privatization of public services, a film about adopted children, the need for change in the kibbutz movement , corruption in the Religious Council, shady connections between some Islamic Waqf dignitaries and building contractors and the inhuman treatment residents needing the Ministry of Interior’s services in East Jerusalem received.
The short reportages I directed dealt with social issues. For example, reportages for the educational channel of “Erev Chadash” dealt with the lack of appropriate care for the elderly, the harsh conditions in which people with Down Syndrome lived, a series of reportages about road accidents and ways to prevent them for “Al Galagalim” (on wheels) program and a series dealing with new approaches in education for “Chadash Ba’einaiim” (new eyes), a program for the educational television channel .
At the same time, I served as mentor to disadvantaged youths at the Hadassim Youth Village endeavoring to empower them by teaching filmmaking.
I got married and joined the kibbutz where my wife was born. I was recruited by the Kibbutz Movement to head the kibbutz’ video program broadcast in all kibbutzim. I directed a series called “Shipputz Kibbutz” (renovating the kibbutz) with a view to stimulate kibbutz members to suggest possible changes in the kibbutzim, which were in crisis at the time.
All this time I directed films as well, most of which dealt with central social issues. Some of my films are used to open discussion and debates held at various educational institutions: “Good Morning Israel” which deals with splits and hostility between various sectors, is included in the curriculum of the Ministry of Education’s Democracy Department and was translated into several languages; it is used also by Jewish Agency activists in numerous countries and was included in training programs of the Israel Defense Forces’ Educational Corps as well as in programs of the Bnei Akiva and Hashomer Hatzair youth movements.
My film Life According to Eve dealing with poverty in Israel was included in the Ministry of Education’s Communication Studies curriculum.
Line Up about the way East Jerusalem Arabs were treated at the Ministry of Interior offices was screened at the Israeli Supreme Court as a testimony to the unfair treatment residents received; it was screened at the Israeli State Attorney’s office and at the Knesset (The Israeli Parliament), as a basis for discussion among establishment representatives. The film contributed to meaningful improvements in the services extended to East Jerusalem residents.
My film Entangled ,created in the spirit of Rashomon, highlighted six points of view concerning the Israeli Palestinian conflict. The film was included in the study program for the encouragement of dialogue, sponsored by the European Union.
My film A Rainbow of Colors Part 2 was screened for soldiers in regular service, before entering Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
In addition to the above, all my films were repeatedly screened on various television channels and at film festivals ; some of them won awards in Israel and abroad.
During all those years I combined teaching and filmmaking and was engaged in meaningful education activities. For example, at the Netanya Academic College where I teach, I was among the initiators of the Excellence Project in which students propose and produce social or community-oriented campaigns. The products of this project were:
“The Voices of Ethiopia” – for the Ethiopian community.
“Take a flower, give encouragement” – for the greenhouse at Kfar Idud Housing for adults with disabilities.
“It all comes back to you” –to decrease the use of plastics.
“Where is your child” – to prevent drinking alcohol among children.
Over the past year I managed to harness graduate students at the Haifa University to produce films for the most disadvantaged children in Israeli society: children with disabilities who also suffer from deep retardation, living at the “Sacred Heart Home” in Haifa. The students produced three films to raise funds to improve their living conditions.
My academic research too, deals with issues close to my heart, such as empowerment of disadvantaged youths by teaching them video, enhancing social cohesion through community video and an investigation elaborating on some ethical considerations arising in documentary activities.
Three times I was offered to head departments, communication and cinema programs at various academic institutions, a most attractive one from Teesside University, Middlesbrough, England where I was offered to head a communications program focusing on documentary activity. I refused all proposals since I felt it was important to keep my time free for directing documentary films, and because I feel that my contribution in Israel may be more meaningful than anywhere else.
In retrospect it seems that most of my films deal with self-examination and require viewers to engage in self-critical introspection. I firmly believe that my role as filmmaker is to stimulate viewers to critically review their own lives. If I may assume to have achieved this goal to some extent, I am satisfied.
My family status: Adva, my wife, is a social worker at the IDF, Israel Defense Force Center for Rehabilitation of the Brain Injured. We have 3 talented children.
Recently I received several reinforcements about my work:
I was chosen as “outstanding lecturer” at the Cinema Culture graduate program at Haifa University (for the 3rd time).
I received a Certificate of Appreciation for social activities for over a decade of work in the excellence project at the Netanya Academic College.
Life According to Eve was chosen to be screened again at the International Children’s Film Festival in Tel-Aviv.
A Certificate of Appreciation from the “Sacred Heart Home” for the help we extended.
In the past three years three of my films won 16 international awards. “Uri in the Sky” was chosen as the best documentary at the Avatar Doc. Festival in Ithaca, New York. “Line UP” was chosen as the best documentary at the U.K. Film Festival. “Moshe Sneh – The man who never gave up” was chosen as the best short documentary at “I will tell international film festival” in London. “Poetry Zaban” was chosen as the Best Social Feature at the Goldstar film festival in NYC.
Recently I started volunteering to screen and lecture about my new film “Poetry Zaban” in front of Israeli youths all over the country. The screening stimulates discussions about social involvement, about the ability to influence and change reality, about one’s personal responsibility and the possibility that even a small minority may have influence. Enthusiastic reactions encourage me to go on with my modest efforts to persuade young people to get out and try to change, to improve reality.
Simultaneously I am working on three films:
“Mati and Salah” , “The boy with his back to the camera” and “The other Way”
With Inbal Ben Asher we intend to continue the investigation we started about cinema and architecture.
I intend to go on teaching and encouraging students to be engaged and create in the social sphere.
All the above bolsters my feeling that I have chosen the right path which enables me to make my own modest, albeit meaningful contribution to the improvement of the society I in which I work and live.