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By Phil Hall | December 16, 2007

This compelling documentary follows filmmaker Uri Rosenwaks in a unique social experiment: he teaches filmmaking to a group of black Bedouin women in the Israeli city of Rahat. The women are the descendants of Africans who were brought to the Holy Land by Arab slave traders.

Yet in today’s modern Israel, they are still routinely referred to as “slaves” and “n*****s” by the white Bedouins. There doesn’t appear to be any effort by the Israeli government to offer civil rights protection, and the Arab society has never shown any kinship despite a shared Muslim heritage.

The women use their new-found filmmaking skills to address taboos in the Bedouin tradition, including the erasure of their history from the Bedouin traditions and the traditional prohibition of interracial marriage. They even travel to England to interview a black Bedouin who was forced to flee when he dared to marry a white woman (her family forced them to divorce and threatened to kill him). The highlight comes when the women interview the Arab mayor of Rahat, who is clearly uncomfortable speaking frankly about issues of racial or gender equality.

The film offers a fascinating look into a barely-acknowledged aspect of Israeli society while quietly questioning basic hypocrisies within a highly subjective interpretation of Koranic laws. If the film has a flaw, it comes in its compact 53-minute running time: because of the tight time restrictions, we never truly get to know the women in-depth and we never see what reaction was raised from their finished film.

Nonetheless, “The Film Class” is a provocative celebration of empowerment through digital cinema and is recommended for anyone interested in both Israeli and Islamic studies.

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