Pierre Dulaine, Yvonne Marceau, Alaa Bubali
Philip Shane, Hilla Medalia
You know you've got a winning film when you've got producers by your side such as Morgan Spurlock, Latoya Jackson, and Nigel Lythgoe, all three of whom are familiar names and known for supporting those who are up-and-coming in the entertainment industry. It's not particularly surprising, of course, given that Dancing in Jaffa, a formulaic yet infectious documentary, combines everything we love to see in a film - cute kids, an entertaining scenario and, maybe most of all, an abundance of hope.
It had long been the dream of renowned ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine to take his New York-based dance program Dancing Classrooms back to his birth city of Jaffa, a city that has become even more divided as it was as it is inhabited rather precariously by a mixture of Palestinians and Jews with a tension that is very real yet on more than one occasion reminded me of Christian Vuissa's Baptists at Our Barbecue. Dulaine isn't quite one to give up, though, and over a 10-week period he intends to teach 150 Palestinian and Jewish 11-year-olds to dance and compete together through a program that will require them to face their issues of identity and segregation while also somehow finding a way to balance the worlds of morality inhabited by both Palestinians and Jews.
Dulaine enlists the help of the rather delightful Yvonne Marceau and together, or so it seems, they sprinkle fairy dust over everyone they encounter and suddenly the overwhelming opposition they'd faced begins to subside and their dream starts to become a reality.
An Official Selection of the 2013 Heartland Film Festival and picked up for a limited nationwide release by Sundance Selects, Hilla Medalia's Dancing in Jaffa makes up for its predictability with a believable conviction and an abundance of heart and inspiration even if it does seem like we've seen an abundance of inspirational dance-themed docs and narrative features in recent years. The film has been wildly popular on the film fest circuit with screenings around the world in festivals ranging from Tribeca to Arclight Documentary Film Festival to Sydney Film Festival and more.
The dancers, as one might expect, are heartfelt and inspirational while the very real conflicts that they and their families live with in their daily lives is a powerful reminder of the freedoms that we enjoy, for the most part, here in the U.S. and the power of the arts to overcome conflict, prejudice, and injustice.
While Dancing in Jaffa isn't the best documentary I've seen in 2013, it's a consistently entertaining one with a message and presentation that should make it a winner on the arthouse circuit.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic