Mention “Zabar’s” to any New Yorker and mouthwatering dreams of the legendary gourmet emporium immediately pop into mind. But not all members of the Zabar family are to be found behind the deli counter, slicing Nova Scotia salmon. For the past several years, Carole Zabar has been cooking up a remarkable professional legacy of her own — and it’s all spreading a message of peace and love through film.
Carole Zabar is the founder of the Israel Film Center, and is currently kicking off her third annual Other Israel Film Festival, focusing on films that explore Israeli-Arab cultural interactions. Headquartered at the New York City Jewish Community Center, located just several blocks from the family store, the festival runs from runs from November 12 to 19, 2009.
“Israel is very important to me. I’ve lived there. I got my B.A and Master’s degrees from Hebrew University. And I love it. But the truth is, Israel isn’t perfect,” says Zabar.
JOANNA LANGFIELD: What are some of the ISSUES that concern you?
CAROLE ZABAR: They are mistreating the Arab minority, 20% of the population, and I wanted to get that word out. We’re not talking about people in the territories here, we’re talking about Palestinian Israelis. Citizens of Israel who have taken a loyalty oath, but are still discriminated against. It’s racism.
LANGFIELD: Why have you chosen to use film to get that message across? Why not a lecture series or through print media?
ZABAR: Nothing reaches anybody more than film. The images, the faces. It’s not an intellectual thing, it’s more emotional. It literally offers a changed view, seeing these Palestinian Israelis as people. And with the screenings, we also have events scheduled. Over the years, lots of Palestinian Israelis have come and they chat with the audience. This year, we’re expecting Sayed Kashua, the controversial journalist and writer to speak. The response from everyone has been fabulous.
LANGFIELD: You’re charging just $5.00 as an admission fee, and that certainly makes the screenings accessible to a wide audience….
ZABAR: Some events are free, too. Remember, these aren’t the kind of mainstream movies that I, for one, have become so bored with. No big Hollywood stars, no big special effects. We even have movies with subtitles. We do, however, have growing support from some major Hollywood people. Debra Winger and her husband, Arliss Howard, have just been fantastic. Tony Kushner, Natalie Portman, Jerry Stiller and Danny Glover are some of the others who’re behind us.
LANGFIELD: Tell me about the Israel Film Center. What’s its purpose?
ZABAR: We started out as a web site for all Israeli films, so people can see what’s out there. As an offshoot, we have started trying to get funding for productions. Seed money for directors. And we’re looking to get good distributors on board. It is so important to have the right distributor. Sony Classics, for instance, did a wonderful job with The Band’s Visit. Sure, it’s a great little film, but they pushed it with terrific marketing.
LANGFIELD: You are the key name behind what could be considered a controversial film festival. Was there any concern amongst family members that there could a backlash against your store?
ZABAR: Look, I went to law school when I was 49 years old. I practiced law for years. My husband wasn’t surprised and he supports what I’m doing. My brother-in-law? He’s a worry-wart. But all we got were one or two nasty e-mails and then it died down. We all felt better after that.