The Boston Israeli Film Festival, which features the very best in Israeli cinema, takes place in theaters from March 19-23 and virtually from March 26-29. Here are previews of the three films streaming virtually. Find information and tickets here.

Concerned Citizen

“Concerned Citizen” (Promotional still)

As Ben and Raz wake each morning in their lovely, light-filled apartment in South Tel Aviv, a robot vacuum wends its way around the house to relaxing music. The two men’s relationship has never been stronger as they make plans to have a baby with the help of a surrogate.

South Tel Aviv is what realtors describe as an up-and-coming neighborhood. Depending on your viewpoint, gentrification is either encroaching on, or improving, the neighborhood. Ben and Raz bought in South Tel Aviv on the promise that their apartment’s value would dramatically increase. And where could they afford an apartment as large as theirs within the city limits?

Like many places in transition, one group pushes out another as housing prices skyrocket. In this instance, Ben and Raz’s neighbors, Eritrean migrants, are being displaced. For the most part, everyone seems to co-exist peacefully, and Ben plants a tree across the street from his apartment to prettify the neighborhood. It’s as much an emotional investment as it is a real-estate calculation. Peering out of his living room window one night, Ben sees an Eritrean man leaning against the tree as he chats with his friend. The man’s nonchalance frustrates Ben, and he goes downstairs to ask the man not to touch the tree.

But as soon as he returns to his apartment, Ben sees the man leaning on the tree again, and he calls the police as an anonymous “concerned citizen.” What Ben thinks of as a routine complaint spirals into a deadly confrontation between the man and the police. It’s a tragic sight shared in the United States—law enforcement beating to death an unarmed Black man for a minor infraction.

Ben watches the violent scene unfold, and his cascading guilt over not intervening stifles him. In a single moment, a snap decision can transform a life. In Ben’s case, his relationship with Raz deteriorates and he begins to have serious doubts about whether he can embrace fatherhood.

In his grief-stricken state, Ben pays a sympathy call to the dead man’s family, who live just upstairs from him and Raz. He is again emotionally paralyzed, this time in the house of mourning. Grief and guilt are a combustible mixture, causing people to act in confounding ways. In a culminating scene, Ben attempts to reenact the initial scene, calling the police again to intervene when another man leans against the tree.

This time, the police officer is reasonable, mild-mannered even, calmly asking the man to stop. The man cooperates, but Ben runs downstairs and accuses the officer of harassment. The confrontation escalates, and Ben receives a kind of redemption as he repeatedly takes blows from the officer.

Like his changing neighborhood, Ben is in flux. There is no adequate answer to overcome the police officers’ racism or the racism in Israeli society. “Concerned Citizen,” however, aims to expose the lethal inequities of uprooting people under the illusion of gentrification.


The Narrow Bridge

“The Narrow Bridge” (Promotional still)

Israelis and Palestinians speak directly into the camera, proclaiming: “We don’t want you here.” These haunting declarations are interspersed throughout “The Narrow Bridge.” First-time documentarian Esther Takac showcases four bereaved families on opposite sides of the conflict. The Australian-born Takac shows how Israel’s remarkable grassroots peace movement was born of losing close family—children and parents—in the region’s intractable struggle to co-exist peacefully. She deploys her experience as a trauma psychologist to great effect, eliciting poignant and deep testimonies from her subjects.

The film’s title is inspired by Reb Nachman of Breslov, who lived in the 18th century. He famously said, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge—but we must not be afraid.” As if in dialogue across the centuries, the scholar and jurist imam Ja’afar Sadiq’s words from the eighth century assert, “Every person must cross the narrow bridge on Judgment Day.”

Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan—Palestinian and Israeli, respectively—are the founders of the Parents Circle. Both lost young daughters in the conflict. The duo’s peace activism has been the subject of other documentaries and numerous articles. Aramin is also the founder of Combatants for Peace. “One Israeli soldier killed my daughter,” he says directly into the camera, “but more than 100 Israeli ex-soldiers built a garden for peace for my 10-year-old daughter.” A border patrol officer killed Abir as she was entering her grammar school on the West Bank. Elhanan’s 14-year-old, Smadar, was killed in a suicide bombing on Ben Yehuda Street, a busy shopping thoroughfare in Jerusalem.

Aramin once belonged to an ad-hoc militia when he was just 13 years old. He was sentenced to seven years in prison for his participation in the killing of a soldier. He came of age in prison and, while serving his sentence, saw a film about the Holocaust. The film altered the course of his life so much, he graduated with a master’s degree in Holocaust studies. After that, hatred became anathema to him.

Bushra, a Palestinian mother, lost her 17-year-old son Mahmoud in the Second Intifada. “He grew up with the First and Second Intifadas,” she says in an interview. She wears a necklace from which her son’s picture dangles and is understandably enraged. But her transformation occurs after Ruby, an Israeli mother whose son died in combat, invites her to a Parents Circle gathering. In her grief, Ruby blossoms into a peace activist and boards a plane for the first time to speak at the United Nations.

Meytal, an artist, creates stark black-and-white paper cutouts that reflect her father’s brutal murder in his Jordan Valley backyard. The film depicts a meeting in Bushra’s home, in which Meytal joins forces with Bushra to advocate for change. Mothers from both sides of the conflict mourning their children and other family members speak their truth at the meeting. As Meytal tells her story, Bushra gently lays her hand on her shoulder.

Takac frames “The Narrow Bridge” with an annual joint ceremony organized by Israelis and Palestinians on Israel’s Memorial Day. The alternative event is met with fierce opposition from right-wing protesters, who call the Israelis attending “traitors.” At the event, the writer and political commentator David Grossman speaks about losing his son Uri in a war with Hamas. Grossman tells his audience, “Every time I’m tempted by racism and hate, I immediately feel that I’m losing living contact with my son.”

As for the Israelis and Palestinians who appear on camera announcing, “We don’t want you here,” it is a plea to all the people in Israel and the territories that they don’t want to accept anyone else in the Parents Circle. Heeding the last words of the Mourner’s Kaddish is yet another entreaty to end the interminable cycle of violence: “God Who makes peace in the heavens, may God make peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.” 


“Matchmaking” (Promotional still)

“Matchmaking” provides a glimpse into the social mechanics of the Haredi marriage-arranging machine, which is nothing new to fans of Netflix’s “Shtisel.” This lighthearted comedy follows the seemingly star-crossed paths of two young Haredi people looking for love. There are the same hotel lobby meetups depicted in “Shtisel,” the awkward one-on-one encounters in a parents’ dining room. These teens are under tremendous pressure as they try to small talk their way to finding their bashert—their destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Moti is one of the community’s most desirable marriage prospects. His Ashkenazi lineage boasts rabbis going back 10 centuries. He’s also handsome and a standout student in his yeshiva. Willing to go up against the steadfast societal norms of B’nei Brak, a Haredi enclave outside of Tel Aviv, Moti goes to great lengths to pursue a love match of his making with Nechama, his sister’s friend. However, Nechama is from a Sephardic Moroccan family, and there is a tacit understanding that Ashkenazim and Mizrahim do not intermarry. As a result, the two lovebirds are mired in a slapstick version of “Romeo and Juliet.”

The film takes a beat to expose the Ashkenazi elite’s ugly prejudice of Sephardim Mizrahi communities. But in the end, both families want the best for Moti and Nechama, and the engagement proceeds. Beyond overcoming Romeo and Juliet’s curse, the young couple’s determination to be together exemplifies the adage that two people falling in love and marrying is a greater miracle than the parting of the Red Sea.

Find information and tickets here.