Review: Stars

'Unmasked: A documentary uncovers the lives of mentally handicapped adults'

by Dana Zimerman, "Haaretz" newspaper, October 1998.

Ziva Postec screened her documentary film "Kokhavim" (Stars) to an audience of its stars, students of the Levtzler Hostel for the Handicapped in Herzliya.

"It was so moving," Postec relates, "after almost a year since I had last seen them, all were in the auditorium and their emotional response to the film was wonderful. After the screening had ended, the director of the hostel called those who had participated in the film on to the stage one by one and then asked them, 'Who should I call now?' and they all shouted, 'Ziva, Ziva!' I had tears in my eyes.

"Kokhavim" was awarded the Israeli Documentary Film Prize at the Haifa Festival two weeks ago and will be screened Wednesday at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque's New Fund for Cinema and Television event.

The film focuses on several students from the hostel and describes their daily lives - waking up, eating meals and other activities until retiring at night. The film's name refers to the cinematic connotation of 'stars.' At the beginning of the film several of its heroes point out that they are its stars. Postec, a veteran film editor, arrived at the hostel when she was directing her previous documentary film, "M.G. - Rehearsals for Departure" a prize-winning portrait of the artist Moshe Gershuni.

"I arrived at the hostel at the end of 1994," she said. "Gershuni lives close to the hostel and he told me that he'd looked out of his window one morning and seen several students entering the forest, their heads wreathed in flowers. This sight amazed him and he said he'd like art to look like that. I came to the hostel to re-enact this scene for him. While being shown around I suddenly found myself suggesting to the director that I make a documentary of it. Levtzler Hostel Director Motti Arbel took Postec up on her suggestion and she began visiting every day. She was allowed to attend exercise classes, she reports, "on condition that I did not watch from the side but joined them sitting in the circle and doing all the exercises they were doing." At that stage Postec did not yet understand what was drawing her to the hostel. But then she understood. "One day I arrived at the hostel very depressed," she relates. "I sat in the circle and simply allowed myself to go a little wild; I did everything with all my heart. When the lesson was over the therapist came over and asked me not to attend next time. I was as insulted as a small child and left more depressed than I'd been when I arrived. Later I understood that I had been reacted just like a Levtzler student. I felt rejected. Then I understood what I wanted the film to be about, this feeling of rejection. Explains Postec, "Levtzler students are rejected the whole time, justly or unjustly. We also undergo rejection but we have tools to deal with it. We have a mask, while they have no masks, and that's the big difference. I think almost all of us suffer from some sort of emotional defect but we hide it. I decided I was prepared to recognize my defect and that very moment I understood what I had been seeking at the hostel and I lost my initial recoil from the students. I believe this distaste stems from our fear of seeing ourselves in them. The moment we get rid of that fear, we discover a hidden world, principally people hungry for society's acknowledgment. This is why they want so much to be photographed. This is not just fascination with the camera but a desire for the camera to transfer them to the world of other, normal people. "After learning to know them as individuals and not just as a group, one sees how much love they have to give. I had never encountered such emotions before; I had never allowed myself to display my feelings to this extent, but they taught both the cinematography team and me a wonderful lesson. For me it was a tremendous revelation on the emotional level because I had always connected to things intellectually. It was new, strong and amazing."

Postec visited the Levtzler Hostel on and off for almost two years. Before shooting she did a three-month probe but by the time she began to shoot, changes had crept in.

"I don't like being photographed, and usually I don't put myself in my films, but here it was simply impossible because the people we were shooting referred to me and the team the whole time. I soon realized that the conception needed to be altered, because we had formed a connection. On the last day of shooting I brought another team to film us working and the students showering affection on us. "This is what I love in documentary cinema,"

Postec sums up. "Every time, you learn new things about the world and yourself. When I made 'Kokhavim' I learned about a hidden world, which has no real reason to be hidden. Society causes it to be hidden. I believe that with appropriate assistance, many Levtzler students would be able to live among us. Society these days is less and less open to anomalies. Moshe Gershuni taught me that it's no big deal to be an artist and to make films about wonderful things. The challenge of art is to make something beautiful from things that are not wonderful. That's the challenge I'd set myself."

"Kokhavim" will be broadcast next spring on Keshet broadcasts but not in its full-length version (100 minutes), much to Postec's chagrin. "My idea was to present a wide variety of people in the film in order to give the spectator the possibility of choosing someone to identify with and also to show that each is a person in their own right. The moment they forced me to shorten it, I was forced to remove several figures and in my opinion that makes the film more superficial. I would be happy if the people at Keshet change their minds and agree to screen the full version, even in two parts."

"Kokhavim" will be screened at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on November 4 and 6 and the Jerusalem and Haifa Cinematheques November 10.

M.G.Rehearsals for Departure
To Be An Isreali Woman
To Banish The Darkness
Shoah (Editor)