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Israeli director Gal Genossar expected to be celebrating the world premiere of his short film, The Monopol, at the Chelsea Film Festival in New York Sunday, along with his screenwriter, Nati Brooks.
However, after the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, Genossar found himself representing his country alone at the festival (which also had a handful of other works from Israeli filmmakers). He was torn on whether to attend the premiere, given the worsening situation in the Middle East, but, after consulting with the Israeli consulate in New York, he decided to stay and speak about the attacks to the opening night crowd at the festival and others and to film protests in the city.
“It’s hard, especially because it’s our world premiere. We really wanted to be here all together and represent the film, but I think that we have a bigger role than just the film, being advocates for the situation in Israel. I think it’s right now bigger than the film itself,” Genossar said.
When he returns home in a few days, Genossar, who’s an Israeli reservist, will join the military response against Hamas.
“If my film wasn’t premiering on Sunday, I would do it before now,” he said.
The director, who is based near Tel Aviv, was able to make it to the film festival because he had an early flight on Oct. 7, which meant he was at the airport during the first strike on Israel. Thinking the attack was not out of the ordinary, and in consultation with his wife, Genossar continued on to New York. He landed and realized the depth of the situation and also received a list of names of missing friends, who he says have now been declared dead. He later found out that his friend, director Yahav Winner, had also been killed.
His screenwriter was sidelined by a canceled flight, as well as needing to attend to family obligations. Genossar says his family is safe amid the conflict.
While he was constantly online at first, Genossar said the updates and the news cycle made him feel “crazy.” However, he feels he has been able to make a difference speaking with people in New York about Israel and the attacks. And he said that his art may have, unfortunately, found new relevance.
The 19-minute historical film drama, which is based on Brooks’ family history, is about the deportation of Jewish families in Macedonia in 1943. A pharmacist is offered a reprieve from being sent to the concentration camps and must decide, alongside his wife, whether to try to save others or leave immediately.
In creating the film, Genossar said his hope was to show the world that these situations should not happen again. And after shooting the film in the country of Georgia, with a cast of Georgian actors and refugees from Ukraine, he found meaning in bringing together different cultures around this topic. But, now he said that the idea of “never again” has “failed.”
“People need to see it, even though it’s an 80-year-old-story. I think it’s relevant, sadly relevant,” he said.
Before the trip, Genossar was working on another documentary short about post-traumatic stress disorder. But he said the attacks have left him questioning: “How do I go back to making art and visual art with the situation that is happening right now?”
It’s a question facing other Israeli artists, including Nitzan Mintz and her partner, who goes by the name Dede Bandaid, who spoke with Genossar as part of a film festival panel Sunday. The two street artists, who are currently in New York for an art residency, started a guerilla campaign making “Kidnapped” posters featuring Israelis taken hostage by Hamas, after initially feeling helpless from afar.
At first, Mintz and Bandaid papered the city of Manhattan with the posters, which are created with the permission of the families, by themselves. But the two then created an online Dropbox of the posters and the effort spread online and was picked up by celebrities and in cities around the world.
“What we’re doing now, we can make a real impact and change, because really the only thing that drives us through these days is to have these people back home,” Dede said.
At the moment, activism and action is taking priority over making art. And Mintz said she couldn’t yet think about a future in which their art may be able to help Israelis in the healing process.
“I would leave aside the art community. I would just help people now,” Mintz said, when asked how to support artists.
While Genossar is still figuring out his next steps as a filmmaker, he said he believes artists and culture will be necessary in Israel to help pave the path forward.
“I think that right now I’m just going to have to go back to Israel to understand what my next role would be in this situation,” he said. “And honestly, I feel that it’s right to go back to doing what I’ve done before. I think Israel is going to change dramatically in one way or the other.”
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