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Real Lives on the Screen

Documentaries to be shown Sunday offer illuminating look at Israeli and Palestinian children in Jerusalem.


When kids are portrayed in TV shows or movies, they're generally depicting characters who are unusually cute in lives that are overly simplified. But when a documentary film crew follows around a real kid, things can turn out to be much more interesting and varied.

This Sunday, the Skirball Cultural Center in the Sepulveda Pass will screen a quartet of documentary film portraits of Palestinian and Israeli children. These children are every bit as charming as the protagonists in movies or TV shows, but they live in real danger and face much more complex problems.

The films are part of the Skirball's current program of events titled "50 Years of Friendship: America & Israel," on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the state of Israel.

Directed on location in Jerusalem by Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Beverly Shaffer, the half-hour films follow two Jewish kids and two Muslim kids through their everyday lives. Each film is narrated by the youngster we see on the screen, commenting on his or her life.

Against the almost constant background sound of sirens and patrolling jets, we watch as 10-year-old Tamar practices on her baritone horn with the Jerusalem Youth Orchestra. She also takes gymnastics classes and pursues special science courses. As she passes from place to place, armed guards are a constant presence. We get a taste of life on a kibbutz when she visits her brother. On the way there, she encounters a Palestinian refugee camp where the inhabitants make a practice of throwing stones at passing cars.

Ibrahim, 11, a video game fan, introduces himself on-screen: "I am an Arab Palestinian Israeli. No, I am an Israeli Arab Palestinian. No, that's not right either. I am a Palestinian Arab Israeli." Today, one-fifth of Israel's citizens struggle with similar problems of self-identification. For Ibrahim, things are further complicated. The film reveals that the school he attends is operated by the Anglican Church.

Neveen, an 11-year-old Muslim girl, lives with her parents and six brothers and sisters in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Her dream is to be a doctor, but as the oldest child, she must, for now, shoulder many of the responsibilities of caring for her family.

Yehuda, a 10-year-old Hasidic boy whose family believes in the joy and celebration of prayer, is seen in the midst of preparations for Sukkot, a traditional Jewish harvest festival.

After the screenings at the Skirball Center, there will be family tours of a temporary exhibition titled "Israel Through American Eyes: A Century of Photographs" at 2:45 and 3:45 p.m. This is a collection of 70 original photographs documenting 100 years of American fascination with the Holy Land.


"Children of Jerusalem: A Young People's Film Series," Sunday, afternoon screenings at 2, 2:30, 3 and 3:30, Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd (at Mulholland Drive). Recommended for kids 6 and older. Film series is free with museum admission ($8 general, $6 seniors and students, free for children under 12). (310) 440-4500.

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