Dancing in Jaffa – A film review

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by Friederike Wipfler

The heart-warming documentary ‘Dancing of Jaffa’ was screened as part of the ‘Geneva International Jewish Film Festival’ at Masion des Arts du Grütli which took place from 26th to 30th March 2014. Pierre Dulaine – a well-known ballroom dancer – initiates a dance project at Jewish – and Arab Israeli schools to create mutual understanding. Pierre Dulaine was born in Jaffa (Palestine) in 1944 as son of a Palestinian mother and an Irish father. Today Jaffa is part of Israel’s second biggest city Tel Aviv and inhabited by Jews and Arabs. Dulaine left Jaffa at the age of four but now returns as a famous dancer to give back to his community. His aim is to coin a 10 – week dance programme for 11-year old children from both backgrounds. After ten weeks there will be a ballroom dance competition and Jewish children are supposed to dance with Arab children. Therefore he visits several Arab-Israeli, Jewish-Israeli and one of the few ‘mixed’ schools in Jaffa. He explains his vision to the childrens’ parents and not all of them are embraced. There are many questions and a lot of distrust. It is not only the parents but also the children who are sceptical. Some of them do not want to touch the other sex at all and refuse to look into each other’s eyes. When Pierre introduces his dance partner Yvonne Marceau to the kids they ask if they are married. ‘You don’t have to marry everyone you dance with!’ Dulaine responds. With esprit and charm Pierre finds his own way of building trust and communicating with the children.

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In several flashes film director Hilla Medalia introduces some of the children. We accompany the Arab half-orphan Noor who does not have any friends at school to her home. At school she is known as a naughty girl, her classmates fear her. We see how she is struggling in life. Her mother just lost her job, Noor misses her father and cries a lot. During the project she opens up, learns to be proud of herself and befriends Jewish girl Lois whose mother conceived her with help of a sperm bank. There is also little boy Alaa whose family only gets to see their relatives in Gaza whenever they get permission by the Israeli government. While the children dance, play and talk they develop a better understanding for each other?

Have you ever seen a Jew?’ an Arab Israeli boy asks another.

Yes, I have seen them.’

‘Have you ever talked to them?’ – ‘No.’

This is exactly what Pierre Dulaine wants to change. Will his project solve the Arab/Jewish problem? No. However Dulaine argues that for a mutual future it is important for the children to know each other, touch each other while dancing and develop trust for the other child.

During the film the viewer also gets a glimpse of the everyday life in Jaffa. Men carrying machine guns guard schools, there are violent demonstrations by Arabs and Israelis, helicopters observing the surrounding. A Jewish teacher tells her pupils how many of her sisters and brothers were killed in suicide attacks. The atmosphere seems scary and not entirely child-friendly. However when dancing the kids seem to forget about the problems outside and at the final competition Jewish parents sit next to Arab Israelis to see their children dance together.

I really enjoyed watching the documentary and would recommend it to anyone interested in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. The documentary is funny at times, very touching at others and definitely provokes the one or the other thought in your head.

Dancing in Jaffa is a documentary released in 2013. The children speak Arabic and Hebrew but Pierre Dulaine often explains things in English. Also there are English subtitles. Dancing in Jaffa premiered in France on 2nd April 2014.  Duration: 88 Minutes

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