Sopris Sun interns gain cultural insight from Shortsfest filmmakers
April 19, 2023
Recently, three of The Sopris Sun youth journalism interns, Yesenia Benavides, Antoinette Brasier and Dominic Furer, had the chance to interview two directors whose films were featured at Aspen Film’s Shortsfest this year: Julia Elihu, director of “In the Garden of Tulips,” and Noam Argov, director of “Sulam.” Below are but a few highlights from the interviews.
‘In the Garden of the Tulips’
This film takes place during the Iran-Iraq war and is about a young Iranian Jewish girl whose father is attempting to help her escape the country.
Dominic: As a Jewish American, I wondered about your symbolic use of the Shema [a Jewish prayer] in the film?
Julia: I came across that rendition of singing the Shema a couple of years ago on YouTube. It really touched my heart because I’m an Iranian Jew myself. We’re the Mizrahi Jews, which is a smaller community that a lot of people don’t know about. The reason I love the way this Mizrahi Rabbi sang the prayer is because you can really hear the roots of the Middle East in the way he’s singing the Shema. It reminded me a lot of this Yeminite cantor I had growing up who would sing the prayer in a very similar way.
We chose to not have any music in the film except for the Shema at the very end to symbolize that now she’s going toward freedom, and is one step closer to being able to sing her prayers freely and loudly.
Yesenia: What do you hope U.S. audiences will take away from the film?
Julia: I want to highlight a group of people and a culture that most people don’t know about. Growing up as an Iranian Jew in San Diego, everyone was kind of confused by that and what that meant. I am trying to showcase my culture and my people and the significant moments that happened to them, and not too long ago, which affected my generation. I also want people to see this young teenage girl from the other side of the world and realize, “Oh she’s not so different from me.”
This film sheds light on the experience of an Israeli mother and daughter who immigrated to the U.S. and the stresses of navigating everyday life in a new country.
Antoinette: Why was the girl so embarrassed that her mom didn’t speak English?
Noam: It’s based on feelings that I had growing up with a mom who didn’t speak English. I think sometimes the way Americans react to that can be negative. I would get the feeling that people didn’t want to understand what my mom was saying or take the time to work with her accent.
I think she just really wants her mom to be American — to fit in. And, that’s just never going to happen for them. I think that’s the tension there: this desire versus learning to appreciate the situation that they’re in and dealing with the reality of who her family is.
Yesenia: How old were you when you immigrated to the U.S.?
Noam: I was two. We immigrated to a rural area of Central Florida where, in the ‘90s, there weren’t a lot of immigrants at the time, and there definitely weren’t a lot of Jews. So, my parents and I were isolated. There was also this strange experience where the small Jewish community there also didn’t really accept us because of the language barrier.
I grew up in this bubble in a way, speaking Hebrew, and reading and writing it — that was really important to my parents. Over the years they did assimilate but it took them a really long time to kind of integrate into the community.
To learn more about Noam Argov’s films, visit www.noamargov.com, as for Julia Elihu’s, visit www.juliaelihu.com.
“In the Garden of the Tulips” will screen at the Crystal Theatre on Saturday, April 29, as part of Shortsfest 2023 Award Winners Program Two, at 5pm. Program One begins at 7pm on April 28, also at the Crystal Theatre. Visit www.bit.ly/ShortsfestWinners for tickets and more information.