Israeli director Gal Genossar is expected to celebrate the world premiere of his short film, The Monopol, at the Chelsea Film Festival in New York on Sunday, along with his screenwriter Nati Brooks.
However, following Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, Genossar found himself representing his country alone at the festival (which also featured a handful of other works by Israeli filmmakers). Given the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, he was unsure whether or not to attend the premiere, but after consulting with the Israeli consulate in New York, he decided to stay and speak about the attacks to the audience on the opening night of the festival and others. and to film protests in the city.
“It’s difficult, especially because it’s our world premiere. We really wanted to all be here together and represent the film, but I think we have a bigger role than just the film, which is as advocates for the situation in Israel. I think it is now bigger than the film itself,” said Genossar.
When he returns home in a few days, Genossar, an Israeli reservist, will join the military response against Hamas.
“If my movie didn’t premiere on Sunday, I would do it sooner,” he said.
The director, who lives near Tel Aviv, was able to visit the film festival because he had an early flight on October 7, which meant he was at the airport during the first attack on Israel. Thinking that the attack was not unusual, Genossar traveled to New York in consultation with his wife. He landed and realized the gravity of the situation and also received a list of names of missing friends, who he says have now been declared dead. He later found out that his friend, director Yahav Winner, had also been murdered.
His screenwriter was sidelined by a canceled flight and also had to meet his family obligations. Genossar says his family is safe during the conflict.
While he was constantly online at first, Genossar said the updates and news cycle made him feel “crazy.” However, he believes he has been able to make a difference by talking to people in New York about Israel and the attacks. And he said his art has unfortunately found a new relevance.
The 19-minute historical film drama, based on Brooks’ family history, is about the deportation of Jewish families in Macedonia in 1943. A pharmacist is given a reprieve from being sent to the concentration camps and must decide together with his wife: whether to try to save others or leave immediately.
In making the film, Genossar said his hope was to show the world that these situations should not happen again. And after shooting the film in the country of Georgia, with a cast of Georgian actors and refugees from Ukraine, he found meaning in bringing different cultures together around this subject. But now he said the idea of ”never again” has “failed.”
“People need to see it, even if it is an eighty-year-old story. I think it is relevant, unfortunately relevant,” he said.
Before the trip, Genossar was working on another short documentary about post-traumatic stress disorder. But he said the attacks have made him ask the question: “How can I go back to making art and visual arts with the situation that is happening now?”
It’s a question facing other Israeli artists, including Nitzan Mintz and her partner, who goes by the name Dede Bandaid, who spoke with Genossar on Sunday as part of a film festival panel. The two street artists, who are currently in New York for an art residency, started a guerrilla campaign creating “kidnapped” posters depicting Israelis taken hostage by Hamas after initially feeling helpless from afar.
Initially, Mintz and Bandaid covered the city of Manhattan with the posters, which they made themselves with the families’ permission. But the two then created an online Dropbox of the posters and the effort spread online and was picked up by celebrities and in cities around the world.
“What we do now, we can make a real impact and change because the only thing that drives us through these days is that these people are back home,” Dede said.
Right now, activism and action take priority over making art. And Mintz said she couldn’t yet imagine a future in which their art could help Israelis in the healing process.
“I would leave out the art community. I would just help people now,” Mintz said, when asked how he could support artists.
While Genossar is still figuring out his next steps as a filmmaker, he said he believes artists and culture in Israel will be needed to help pave the way forward.
“I think at this point I just have to go back to Israel to understand what my next role would be in this situation,” he said. “And honestly, I think it’s good to get back to doing what I’ve done before. I think Israel is going to change dramatically one way or another.”