A different side of Israel
Photo: Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
Education - a number one issue
Photo: Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
Kirk Simon, one of the two producer/directors of "Strangers No More", Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary, talked to Ynet about the highly acclaimed film and his excitement over the news.
Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon's 'Strangers No More', which focuses on daily life of foreign workers' children in Israeli school, nominated for Academy Award in short documentary category
The documentary focuses on the Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv, where children from 48 countries, many of them refugees from war and poverty-stricken nations, learn to deal with the diversity of their new environment. Simon is a partner in the Simon & Goodman Picture Company, in New York, which created the film.
How did you hear about the nomination?
"I was sitting in my Manhattan apartment watching the Oscar nominations on a morning TV show. The nominations are obviously a big deal here, broadcast on all networks. On TV they announce only the major categories, Best Picture, Best Actors, etc, and then the other categories are all posted on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website. At that point my phone started to go crazy with texts and calls coming in simultaneously. I then knew it was good news."
Simon is no stranger to the Oscars, as this is his fourth nomination. However this time around he seems more excited: "This nomination is very special to me as I've grown very close to both the teachers and students at the Bialik Rogozin School. I also feel that the added recognition that comes from an Academy Award nomination will help bring needed attention to the issue of helping to keep the children of immigrant workers in Israel. I believe that the mission of the school is worthy of world wide recognition and these children should be able to stay and be educated at the Bialik Rogizon School."
'Helping keep immigrant children in Israel'. Scene from movie
The film follows several students' struggle to acclimate to life in a new land while slowly opening up to share their stories of hardship and tragedy: Mohammed, a 16-year-old refugee from Darfur, who witnessed the killing of his grandmother and father before escaping alone through Egypt to Israel; Johannes who arrived at Bialik-Rogozin after spending most of his life in refugee camps; and Esther, who fled South Africa with nothing, in search of safety and peace of mind.
'An eye opener'
With tremendous effort and dedication from the school, the three managed to create new lives for themselves, form strong bonds with their teachers and make new friends.
The film was screened at Tel Aviv Cinematheque beginning of January as well as in film festivals across the United States, Africa and Australia.
Why do you feel it's important to screen the film outside of Israel?
"Education is a number one issue around the world. What this small school in the heart of Tel Aviv is accomplishing is just fantastic. The film presents the school's wonderful success story. Every time there is a screening there are tears in the eyes of the audience. Some of these children at the school have experienced extreme hardship previously in their lives. With tremendous effort and dedication, the school provides the support these children need to recover from their past. And that is a journey we tried to capture in the film."
How is Israel portrayed in the film?
"There have been numerous screenings of the film in New York and Los Angeles and at film festivals around the US. At every screening people comment that what is shown in the film is an Israel that they were unfamiliar with - that the film opened their eyes to something that they had no idea existed. So I feel proud to help present a fuller picture of what life in Israel is."
How long did you work on the movie?
"The film was made over the course of a school year. In order to tell this story we made six or seven trips from New York, staying about a week each time. We saw the school in action. We were able to witness the changes and growth in the students - we were able to see a student like Johannes from Eritrea blossom in front of our eyes."
Now Simon has to wait and see whether his name will be called to accept the coveted Oscar on February 27. "Although this is my fourth nomination, I've never won. It would be a delight to win with this film," he said.
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