Reel Life: a globetrotting cinephile brings back Israel's best | Calendar | Chicago Reader

Reel Life: a globetrotting cinephile brings back Israel's best 

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Alissa Simon calls her one-woman film services company Cine Qua Non, and the play on the Latin for some indispensable thing is apt. The Lincoln Park-based firm offers one-stop shopping for the film festival and nonprofit circuits which rely on the kind of work Simon does: consulting, programming, research and documentation, and event planning. Although she annually travels the globe to discover new movies, secure exhibition rights, sit on juries, and shepherd filmmakers through such far-flung outposts of cinemania as Thailand and Transylvania, Simon is plying her expertise locally this weekend--a program of Israeli documentaries she curated in conjunction with the New Israeli Foundation for Cinema & TV kicks off a four-city tour on Sunday at Facets Cinematheque.

The former associate director of programming for what was then the Film Center of the School of the Art Institute, Simon resigned in 1999 to move to Iowa City and look after her mother, who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. She founded Cine Qua Non the following year because, she says, "I wanted to be able to travel but I wanted it to be for work." Last year she made 24 trips and moved three more times, from Ohio (after a stint as artistic director of Cleveland's film festival), back to Iowa, then back to Chicago, where she's since bought a house.

This year her film festival work has taken her to Palm Springs, Bangkok, Berlin, Cannes, and Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic. She'll soon be off to Locarno before hitting the trifecta of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. She has four full Rolodexes, a comprehensive list of diplomatic and consular contacts, and a slender new passport to replace the old one, which had extra pages sewn in for additional visas. But the peripatetic lifestyle she's cultivated over the last four years is starting to lose its luster. "I'm tired of being a migrant arts worker, I think," she says. "Now that I own property, I'm ready to settle down and find more work here."

Simon has long followed film from the Middle East, making nine trips to Iran starting in the 90s as part of her work at the Film Center. Her interest in Israeli cinema intensified ten years ago when she helped launched the Jewish Film Project, a programming collaboration between the Film Center and the Spertus Institute's Asher Library.

"Israeli documentaries right now are really hot," she says. "You look at any documentary festival anywhere and an Israeli film or two are in the competition, and they're the ones that are winning the prizes and are dealing with the most provocative subjects." One Simon's particularly excited about is Raging Dove, by Duki Dror, an Israeli who studied at UCLA and here at Columbia College. "It's about a boxer who was born in Nazareth, so he's an Israeli citizen, but he's Palestinian and he came to live in America, so what flag does he fight under?" Audiences are hungry for documentaries lately, she says, pointing to the success of domestically produced nonfiction films like Fahrenheit 9/11, Super Size Me, and Control Room. "All these films right now are very political, and are bringing up a lot of different viewpoints that you aren't seeing in the corporate-controlled media." Both Raging Dove and Ra'anan Alexandrowicz's The Inner Tour, a 2001 Israeli-Palestinian coproduction that follows a group of Palestinians on a bus tour through Israel to visit the sites of their former homes, she adds, "have Palestinian subjects, and that's something that gives you both sides of the story. The films bring a human perspective that you aren't getting from just reading a black-and-white news piece."

"New Israeli Documentaries" starts Sunday, July 18, with a 4 PM screening of The Inner Tour; tickets are $9. The series runs Sundays through August 15 at 1517 W. Fullerton; call 773-281-4114 or see www.facets.org/cinematheque for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.

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