The Docaviv Tel Aviv film festival spotlights a forgotten, pre-revolutionary period when Israelis and Iranians wined and dined together and exchanged intelligence secrets.
Before Iran became Israel’s No. 1 archenemy, thousands of Israelis stationed in Tehran lived quite the life there.
Dan Shadur’s film “Before the Revolution,” premiering at the Docaviv Film Festival in Tel Aviv this week, takes an insider’s look at this dolce vita that came to an abrupt end in 1979, when under threat to their lives, Israelis were forced to evacuate Iranian territory.
Shadur, who spent his childhood years in Tehran, where his parents served as envoys, tracked down many of their old friends and acquaintances – among them former Mossad agents, diplomats, contractors and security guards. Their shared recollections, letters, photographs and home movies bring back to life this almost-forgotten pre-revolutionary period when Israelis and Iranians wined and dined together, engaged in business dealings and exchanged intelligence secrets.
Shadur’s 80-minute documentary, with English subtitles, opens with a former security guard recounting the incredulous scene of hundreds of Iranians gathered on the streets to watch a film about Israel’s famed Entebbe raid being projected on the outside wall of the embassy. At the part where Israeli soldiers storm the Ugandan airport, he recalls, the Iranians burst into wild applause. But later on, when the Israeli commando leader Yoni Netanyahu (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother) is gunned down, they collectively erupt into tears. Who could have imagined, he asks, that just a few months later, he and other once-admired Israelis would be forced out of the country “with our tails between our legs”?
Shadur’s deceased mother, the filmmaker recalls, once described those years in Iran as the best period in their lives. A husband and wife, former kibbutzniks and old friends of his parents, talk about their initial amazement at being assigned a maid who “washed all our clothes by hand.” Salaries were so high and the cost of living so low, other members of this former Israeli expat community testify, that they were eventually able to save enough money during their stints in Iran to purchase spacious apartments in Tel Aviv with no need to take out mortgages.
All this may explain why many preferred to ignore the increasingly evident signs around them of a grassroots uprising against the Shah and to live in their “bubble,” as one woman described it, making their way out of the country, often clandestinely, in just the nick of time. As an Israeli passenger on one of the last flights to leave Iran recalls, the plane “absolutely shook” from all the celebratory jumping and clapping that took place when it safely entered Turkish airspace.
“Before the Revolution” is one of 12 films competing in the 15th annual Docaviv festival, which will showcase 100 documentaries from around the world, from May 2 through May 11 – most of the screenings at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
“Soldier on the Roof” provides another insider account, but of a very different type of Jewish community: the settlers of Hebron. Dutch-Israeli filmmaker Esther Hertog spent three years living among the several hundred heavily guarded Jewish families of Hebron documenting their daily lives. To her credit, the fact that the story is told entirely from their perspective and that of the soldiers watching over them does not at all make it one-sided.
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