Pickles was the most challenging and touching documentary that I saw at the Other Israel Film Festival. A moving film about the limitations of faith and culture, it follows the lives of eight Muslim widows who start a pickling factory in Israel. Each woman in the film has her own struggle: Samira is estranged from her daugher, whose husband's family won't let the two women interact; Matza's son dies of a botched operation; Fatma begins a career in marketing once she is well into her fifties. Working in the factory gives them the opportunity to share these stories with each other. As they form a community, the women begin to question their roles in society. I interviewed Nitza Gonen, the producer of the film, to learn more about the significance of the film, its legacy, and the ideas behind it. What inspired the film Pickles? One day, Dalit, the director, read an article about eight Muslim women in a northern village in Israel who started a pickle factory, and this story was very unusual because it was about widows. A widow isn’t supposed to go out of the home, she is supposed to watch over her children. She lives off social security and is watched over by her husband’s family. She is very miserable. She is not supposed to remarry. If she does, she cannot bring her children with her, and she must give them to her former husband’s family. There are few films about the inner lives of Muslim women. We wanted to lift the veil—and show that on the other side they were having a revolution. As an Israeli Jewish woman making a documentary about Muslim widows, what were some of the obstacles that you faced during the production of the film? How did you deal with the language barrier? Were the villagers or women’s families suspicious of the motives of your film? First, I don’t speak Arabic—none of us on the film crew speak it. We needed a common language so we got a translator. She was a Muslim woman who taught us the different cultural codes. The widows were very nice to us. They knew we had good intentions and that we were just trying to expose their lives to the world. The problem was with this woman in the municipality. Her role was to care for the women of the village and when she saw that we were making a film she interfered and forbade us from shooting private moments in the home and in the factory. She represented women trying to keep up their modesty and tradition, so I don’t blame her. Somebody had to protect the widows. But they couldn’t disobey her. She had lots of influence and she helped them to take care of their families. It was difficult because we didn’t want to raise conflict, so we missed some interesting situations. In an interview with PBS, Dalit Kimor, the director, said that "Not one political word was said when we were filming" between the filmmakers and the widows. Why did you choose to do this? Do you consider your film political? We didn’t want to make a political film. The widows weren't concerned with politics—on the first day of filming, Arafat died, and no one talked about him in the village. No one was occupied with his death. No one was praying for him in the mosques. They didn't speak about it. We didn't speak about it. We wanted to make a social human film. In Israel every film is political. Choosing Arab women as a subject of a film is political. Some people have criticized the film for not being political. It is completely innocent of politics.
You have said that the women had never heard of the word feminism and yet were creating a small revolution. Was this film made from a feminist perspective? Did a feminist thread evolve during the production of this film? Neither Dalit nor myself are feminists in the classic sense. Feminism is old news—we are feminists, but we are beyond this term. We didn't aim to make a feminist film, but the film talks about the rise of feminism in Arab society in Israel. The widows made a revolution in the village and the young women respect them. Now they are thinking of going to work, to school, and developing careers—and they weren't thinking of this before. These women did something for feminism without knowing it. Feminism is not the subject of the film, but it is the subtext. After the production of Pickles, did any of the women stay in touch? Was a social network established? Did the pickle factory leave a legacy for the women in the film? Widows are supposed to live in loneliness, and the factory gave them the opportunity to have a social club. In the film they cry together and tell jokes and comfort each other, and this it is not something that was in their lives before. So when the factory closed they had to go back to their former lives—but not Fatma. Because she was the marketing director she had a lot of contacts, so she is still making pickles, with her daughters. They have started their own business. Her daughters want to go to school, so she is saving money so they can study. What has been the response to Pickles internationally and in Israel? People liked the film very much, although it's unusual because when Israelis make films on Arabs it's always about identity, conflict with Palestinians, or about Palestinians, and this film was not dealing with this. In Israel, our subject was not dealing with the hard stuff. The big success of the film was abroad. People were surprised to learn how Arab women were living, to discover that they are like us, like everybody. The Muslim world in the eyes of the West—it's a kind of riddle. We see them as fanatics or fundamentalists, but we don't see their lives. The film revealed a lot about this without saying it. Through the production of Pickles, you started a dialogue between secular Muslim women and secular and non-secular Jewish women in Israel. Have you done other work to increase dialogue or contact between Muslims and Jews in Israel? What are your thoughts on Jewish and Muslim relations in Israel? We are both Mediterranean and we come from the same area. We have many shared characteristics: hospitality, human warmth, we are straight-forward. Before 1948, Arabs and Jews lived together and sometimes had good relations. Through progress I think that we will have better relations. On the last film I worked on, the director of photography and director were both Arab. I would like them to join all fields of life in Israel. We share the same country and there is no excuse for being apart.
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