Last November, I had the pleasure of attending the 28th Israeli Film Festival LA premiere of Above and Beyond, a documentary produced by Nancy Spiegelberg about the foreign airmen of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.
That eventful Thursday night was a loaded one for me — not only was I attending my very first movie premiere, but I also happened to be attending it with a blind date. He had proposed we meet for drinks before the film, and then head over together. We managed to cover the obligatory small talk topics, and somehow we lost track of time (perhaps it was because the brussel sprouts — his pick, I’m a french fries kinda gal — took longer than expected to arrive). Regardless, feeling hurried, we each rushed to make the movie in our respective cars. Of course, I ended up taking a wrong turn so it took me much too long to find a parking spot; I beelined to the seat he saved me without taking a second look around.
Scurrying into the dimming theater, I was relieved that after two hours of forced chatter, I would have an hour-and-a-half of absolute silence (on my part) and a chance to be utterly mesmerized by the screen’s grandeur and the speakers’ resonance.
The film portrayed the unbelievable story of a group of Jewish American WWII pilots who put their American citizenship on the line by smuggling planes out of the United States into Czechoslovakia for training; the pilots then flew for Israel to defend her in the 1948 War of Independence. The story of these foreign volunteers in the preliminary Israeli air force, called the “Machal,” made me cry and made me laugh, but most of all made me remember the extent to which Jews today take the State of Israel for granted. Not only was the plot line completely engrossing, but the visual and cinematic effects were unbelievably realistic,and the quality of the interview compilations was probably the best I’ve ever seen.
I remember feeling empowered by the film, particularly with a sense of urgency to follow the lead of the film’s central players and join a collective of some sort. The film reminded me of William James’ philosophy about the beneficial nature of conscription in an army fighting in the name of justice, rather than bloodshed. James advocated that the systematic nature of the army is integral to the development of a child into an adult. However, James envisioned a utopian vision of the army, one in which social justice was the ultimate goal. I recall a feeling of uselessness and futility washing over me as the film concluded: these young men, not much older than me, contributed greatly to the existence of the State of Israel. What had I, a middle-class Jew at UCLA, done for my people and my homeland?
I pondered this as the Q&A; session began with the film’s director, Roberta Grossman. However, my thoughts were disrupted as I turned around to face the audience member with a question, only to find myself face to face with an “ex” of mine. The tragicomedy I call my life evoked equal parts horror and humor in my head. The chances of this ill-fated encounter were slim-to-none, much like Israel’s chances of victory in the 1948 War, but both happened.
Experience the cinematic gem beginning February 6 — preferably sans the “ex” run-in — with an interesting and positive viewing experience, no less.