Dancing in Jaffa

Movie Information

In Brief: This year's Asheville Jewish Film Festival runs four Thursdays in April (with matinees on following Fridays). The opening night film is the heartwarming documentary, Dancing in Jaffa. The film features professional ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine pursuing his dream of returning to his native city of Jaffa to teach the both Jewish and Palestinian children ballroom dancing. It is his belief that dance might be the bridge to better relations and greater understanding. It is a surprisingly moving and involving film. Complete festival listing is available at ashevillejewishfilmfestival.com.
Genre: Documentary
Director: Hilla Medalia
Starring: Pierre Dulaine, Yvonne Marceau, Alaa Bubali, Lois Dana, Noor Gabai, Rachel Gueta
Rated: NR

I tend to think of documentaries as belonging to one of two categories—activist or informational (sometimes the latter can also be the former), Hilla Medalia’s Dancing in Jaffa doesn’t quite belong to either one. This is more along the lines of the heart-warming or uplifting documentary. That’s not as grim as it sounds. The story of professional ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine—himself half Arab and half Irish—returning to his native Jaffa to teach ballroom dancing to 11-year-old Jewish and Palestinian schoolchildren is blessedly pretty much goo-free. Dulaine’s idea of bridging the divide between the two cultures through dance may seem a little…well, naively optimistic, but it’s clear that Dulaine himself realizes this. Plus, he’s such an engagingly outrageous figure—and prone to outbursts of temper—that he’s pretty irresistible as a personality.

Does the experiment work? Well, let’s be honest, if it didn’t to some degree, the movie wouldn’t exist. The film itself is pretty straightforward. If you took away its political content, it would be little more than your standard children in competition documentary. But the political aspect of the film gives it not just a distinct identity, but a certain edge. It’s not so much the dancing that you’re apt to take away from the film than it’s the fact that even at age 11 the children have learned to hate or at least distrust each other and each other’s culture. The question is whether they can unlearn this. What’s most interesting and most touching lies in that question and in the slow thaw between the children over the course of the film. It’s something that manages to be sweet without being cloying, and that manages to be hopeful without being altogether too starry-eyed.

The Asheville Jewish Film Festival and Fine Arts Theatre will screen Dancing in Jaffa on Thursday, April 3 at 6 p.m. (reception at 6 p.m. at Blue Spiral1). Admission is $22 for both the film and the reception (there are no film-only tickets). The film only shows again on Friday, April 4 at 1 p.m. and is $8.50.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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