HaDag Nachash: Atypical Israel band hip-hops to Hollywood

Adam Sandler, a.k.a. Israeli Mossad super-agent Zohan, saunters through the streets of Tel Aviv gyrating his cut-off-jeans-clad hips, delighting Israeli beachgoers with an exaggerated display of hacky-sack skills and putting on a super-human show of strength in a game of tug-of-war as a bikini-clad beauty perches on his shoulders.

The soundtrack playing throughout this opening sequence of “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” is the hip-hop/funk “Ma She Ba Ba” by one of Israel’s top bands, Hadag Nahash.

Later, as Zohan faces his Arab nemesis, The Phantom, the band charges up a fast-paced chase scene with the rapid beat of “Hine Ani Ba.” The catchy track, which translates to “Here I Come,” repeats during the closing credits and is featured prominently in the film’s trailers.

So how did a song released in 2006 by a 12-year-old Israeli band become the theme song of a major Hollywood release?

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Israeli film ‘Waltz With Bashir’ has an anti-war beat

“Waltz With Bashir” is a startling hybrid of a movie vehicle which came from behind to become Israel’s entry for Oscar honors, announced last month, and may well pull another surprise when the Academy Award for best foreign-language film is announced.

The oddly titled film combines state-of-the-art animation, an anti-war documentary theme and a psychoanalytic approach to recover the memory of a traumatized Israeli soldier.

The mixture may sound odd, but it comes together as an integrated and haunting autobiographical movie, which will be screened for the first time locally on Nov. 1 at the American Film Institute Fest 2008.

Ari Folman, the film’s writer, director and producer, is also its central character as a 20-year-old infantryman, whose unit spearheaded the Israeli advance into Lebanon in June 1982 with the announced goal of stopping incursions and rocket attacks on northern Galilee towns by the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Going beyond the original Israeli plan to establish a 25-mile buffer zone in southern Lebanon, Folman’s Golani Brigade is ordered to the outskirts of Beirut, awaiting orders to take the city.

In confusing night actions and bitter street fighting, the young soldiers encounter fear and death. Their sometime allies are the Christian Phalangist militia, led by the young, charismatic Bashir Gemayel. (The film takes its title from a scene in which an Israeli soldier, dodging bullets while crossing a Beirut street, goes through strange, waltz-like motions, while huge posters of Gemayel look down.)

When Gemayel is killed in an explosion, the revered leader’s militia takes over the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut, while Israeli soldiers, including Folman, are positioned around the camps’ perimeters.

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After three nights of killings, shell-shocked civilians stumble out of the camps, leaving behind murdered corpses, whose estimated numbers range from 700 to 3,000.

The years pass, and one day Folman meets a former army buddy who talks about a strange, recurring dream, rooted in his battlefield experiences, and Folman realizes that he remembers nothing of his own actions in the war.

He decides to seek out six veterans from his old unit, a TV journalist who covered the war, and an expert on post-traumatic stress disorder, to help him restore old memories.

To create his script, Folman said in an interview that he recorded the witnesses’ stories on video and cut the recollections down to 90 minutes. Next, his team created a storyboard and 2,300 illustrations, which were turned into animation through a combination of Flash, classical animation and 3D.

Speaking by phone from his Haifa home, Folman said that his production costs were $2 million, mostly underwritten by Israeli, French and German film funds. When he exhausted the grants, he mortgaged his home and took out a large loan.

During the four years that went into the making of “Waltz,” the psychological and financial strains were unrelenting, Folman recalled, not made easier by the birth of his three children during that period.

Folman said that there was never any question in his mind that the film would be animated, noting, “If you look at all the elements, the dreams, the hallucinations, the surrealism of war itself, that’s the only way I could make it work.”

Only in the last 50 seconds of the 87-minute film does Folman switch to newsreel footage to show the bloody toll of the Phalangists’ massacre.

“I didn’t want the people in the audience to come out feeling that they had seen a film with some really cool animation and great music,” Folman explained.

The film is infused with Folman’s conviction that war is senseless and his visceral dislike of Israel’s leadership during the Lebanon War, particularly of Ariel Sharon, then minister of defense.

So intense is Folman’s feeling that he sees his film as a kind of legacy for his young sons, so when the time comes, “They will make the right decision, meaning not to take part in any war, whatsoever.”

On questioning, he qualified the statement by saying that it referred to Israel’s two Lebanon wars and America’s invasion of Iraq, but not to such “defensive” battles as the Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars.

“Waltz With Bashir” won high praise at the Cannes, Toronto and New York film festivals, and, perhaps more surprisingly, in its home country.

The Israeli government’s film fund subsidized the movie, there was no criticism from the political right, and only some on the left objected that the film’s anti-war message wasn’t strong enough.

“Israelis are very tolerant toward their artists,” Folman said.

AFI will screen “Waltz With Bashir” on Nov. 1 at 3:45 p.m. and again Nov. 7 at 7 p.m., both at the Arclight Theatre in Hollywood. The film will be released in general theaters on Dec. 25.

Other titles at the AFI Fest (Oct. 30 – Nov. 9) on Jewish themes or by Jewish filmmakers include “Acne,” “Adam Resurrected,” “Defiance” and “Of All the Things.”

For ticket and other information, visit http://www.afi.com/afifest or phone (886) AFI-FEST.

A Scream Looking for a Mouth

The anti-war forces in America have blundered, and it’smaking them lose the war — for our hearts and minds.

The problem is the demonstrations. By their very nature,public rallies of this sort tend to reduce issues to black-and-whiteoversimplifications, fueled by a need to dramatize and emotionalize for maximumeffect.

Unfortunately for the demonstrators, this issue is hardlyblack and white. Anyone who has scanned editorials over the past few months cantell you that this is a heart-wrenching subject, with strong arguments on bothsides. But angry demonstrators who yell, scream and demonize President GeorgeW. Bush with signs like “Bush is the real terrorist” end up undermining theircredibility and, ultimately, their cause.

For anti-war demonstrations to be effective, they need aclear bad guy, no strings attached. Bush is not that guy. You can criticize himall you want — for failing to make his case for war, not giving sanctionsenough time, being arrogant, etc. — but you can’t look like you hate him morethan an evil tyrant who has murdered and tortured thousands of his own people.

Therein lies the blunder. The anti-war demonstrators seem tohave forgotten the one person who would have made a fabulous target for an”anti” rally: Saddam Hussein. Against that kind of evil, it would be perfectlyacceptable to simplify and dramatize. I can’t imagine ever accusing someone ofexaggerating a critique of Saddam Hussein.

I can even see the signs: “Saddam Must Go,” “Free the 30Million Iraqis,” “Iraqi Women’s rights,” “We don’t need another Hitler,” “Nonegotiating with Evil” and so on. You can disagree with the decision to go towar, but you can’t disagree that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who must go.

By choosing to demonize Bush, the anti-war forces have lettheir hearts rule their minds. They have forgotten what the majority ofAmericans intuitively understand: that there is another, more vicious war goingon — the war that Saddam Hussein has waged on his own people for decades. Thatwar may not be as visible on CNN, but it’s real, and it’s disingenuous to looklike you ignore it.

All this makes me wonder if there are other factors behindthis seemingly blind and single-minded hatred of Bush. We live in aconsumer-based society where we are used to being pandered to and seduced,where we judge personalities more than we judge issues. But Bush doesn’tseduce. It’s quite possible that his morally righteous, cowboy personality is atotal turnoff to these anti-war demonstrators, and they can’t see past thatunpleasant veneer to give him any credit for noble intentions.

It’s also true that public demonstrations have always had aromantic pull for those looking for a more meaningful and dramatic life. Andgoing against war is as romantic and dramatic as it gets. Who cares if we areexaggerating or simplifying or demonizing? In a feel-good culture, yellingagainst war can feel really good.

The side effect of all this yelling is that it kills honestdebate. It’s easier to yell than to think. Thinking, balancing and debating maybe the more appropriate course, but it won’t get you on the evening news. Theresult is the appearance of a polarized world, where you are either for oragainst, no questions asked. That’s not democracy at its best.

I have a suggestion for demonstration-seekers. If you’regoing to yell against something in three-second sound bites, pick a true evilto yell against that requires little or no nuance. Otherwise, if you’regenuinely against the war and you’re a scream looking for a mouth, scream for somethingpositive like peace. It may be superficial and naive — especially now that thewar is well underway — but at least you won’t lose the credibility that comesfrom demonizing the wrong demon.

David Suissa is founder and CEO of Suissa MillerAdvertising, and founder/editor of OLAM magazine and the activist site OLAM4Israel.com. He can bereached at editor@OLAM.org