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December 28, 2015 by

“Rock in the Red Zone”: Living for Today in Sderot

sderock-slant2Not exactly a trend—but impressive—that two of the documentary directors in this past November’s Other Israel Film Festival are women who not only have several films to their credit but are also pregnant with their second child. More power to them.

Both were featured at the 9th annual Other Israel Film Festival, which is sponsored by JCC Manhattan and focuses on films critical of Israeli politics and society. Both directors’ voices are part of their films’ message that Israel can do better.

Director Laura Bialis after the Other Israel Film Festival screening of "Rock in the Red Zone." She documents hard living and hot music in the town of Sderot, half a mile from Gaza.

Director Laura Bialis after the Other Israel Film Festival screening of
“Rock in the Red Zone.” She documents hard living and hot music in the town of Sderot, half a mile from Gaza. Photo by Amy Stone.

Mor Loushy’s “Censored Voices” is carefully constructed from long-silenced interviews by soldiers right after the Six-Day War. Laura Bialis’s “Rock in the Red Zone” is the more freewheeling personal and political story of a Los Angeles filmmaker, now 42, drawn to Sderot, the neglected town near enough to Gaza to be constantly under rocket attack. As a filmmaker who’s worked in Kosovo, she’s attracted to this neglected town that produces music that’s changed the Israel music scene. As she explains in the narrative, “I’d always heard that good music comes from hard places.”

She comes. She sees. She’s hooked. The film takes shape not only as the documentation of a town shamefully neglected by Israel (in the 1950s the Ashkenazi founding fathers sent the Jews from North Africa to this benighted spot, then the Ethiopians), but also as something more personal. We’re seeing the Zionist awakening of a Southern Californian. She doesn’t say it but these Mizrachi musician guys are real men, not your twerpy American Jewish males.

She films. She leaves. She returns. The rockets fall. She gets closer to the community. She rents a house with one of the band members—a chance to film this guy who won’t be filmed. She discovers, when she buys furniture in Tel Aviv, that most drivers won’t deliver to Sderot. Too dangerous. (Unspoken: What’s a nice American Jewish blonde doing in a town like this?)

The answer, as Bialis says in the film: “There was an intensity of life in Sderot like nowhere else. It was life in Technicolor. Not knowing what could happen at any moment made us treasure the simplest things. It was live hard and party hard.”

This is the extreme example of what many an American Jew feels visiting Israel. Coming from our comfortable-yet-caring middle class existence, we get turned on by the life-and-death reality of Israel. “Rock in the Red Zone,” with its footage of panicked and bleeding people, destroyed homes and red hot music, captures the

Amazing that we Americans know so little about daily life in Sderot. Even more amazing— as Bialis makes clear—that Israelis don’t know either. Tel Avivis, just an hour’s drive from Sderot, don’t want to know about this parallel world. When one of the Sderot musicians wants his music video to be recorded in the place that inspired it, he’s refused. The likelihood of the blaring red alert – the loud speaker 15-second warning before rockets land – messing up the recording is too great a risk. The video was made in a nearby town, but this reviewer thinks the reality of the red alert blast might’ve added that special something that is Sderot.

Watch the trailer here. Check here for future screenings. To book a screening for a group or organization contact: