Amos Gitai in Paris in 2019 (Photo/Transfuge magazine-Laura Stevens)
Amos Gitai in Paris in 2019 (Photo/Transfuge magazine-Laura Stevens)

Once censored, Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai’s ‘House’ finds a home at Stanford

In 1980, Amos Gitai’s film “House” was rejected by Israeli television. The documentary, which told the story of a home in West Jerusalem as the political landscape shifted around it, was censored and judged too controversial for broadcast.

On May 5, “House” will screen at Hillel at Stanford as a part of Gitai’s monthlong residency at Stanford University. The public screening, presented in conjunction with Stanford Libraries’ Amos Gitai Film Archive, will be followed by a conversation with Gitai, and a May 6 conference for scholars of his work. (The film is in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles.)

It has now been 42 years since Gitai, 71, released “House,” his first film on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In that time, much has changed, but Gitai is not surprised the film is still relevant.

“As a work on the Middle East … on one hand, we’re very happy that the film is still saying valuable things. At the same time, we’re sad that it’s saying valuable things because the reality didn’t change,” Gitai told J. “As a filmmaker I’m delighted. As a citizen I’m worried.”

Stanford Libraries’ film archive, established in 2017 through a faculty connection with Gitai himself, has been collecting and documenting his work. The archive holds digital materials related to the production and editing of eight of his most prominent films, including video, audio and text. The archive is “born-digital,” meaning all materials were curated digitally and exist on hard drives within the library.

Eitan Kensky, curator of Judaica and Hebraica Collections at Stanford Libraries, said the university is particularly suited to house Gitai’s work because of its experience with digital archival work, a process that is still fairly new.

Stanford is curating a collection of works on Israeli culture, and Gitai is the first filmmaker to be included. The university was interested in bringing him to campus because he was and remains the most prominent Israeli filmmaker of his generation, Kensky said.

“If you look at what Israeli filmmakers were reflected in the major international film festivals, and received the most international recognition, [Gitai] is the person,” Kensky said.

Gitai was born in Haifa in 1950 to architect Munio Weinraub and Biblical scholar Efratia Gitai, who was born in Palestine in the early 1900s. After a near-death experience during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Amos turned to filmmaking. He has enjoyed international fame for his work and has been nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes International Film Festival. In 2006, he received the Freedom of Expression Award at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival for his work on “Kippur,” a film about the Yom Kippur War.

Earlier this year, Gitai presented an immersive video installation in Florence, Italy. Called “Promised Lands,” the installation juxtaposed excerpts from many of his films and theater pieces.

“House” focuses on a stone home in West Jerusalem as its ownership changes hands; it is first owned by a Palestinian family (which abandoned it during the 1948 war), then an Algerian Jewish couple, and finally a professor who had emigrated from Eastern Europe at the time of filming. The building becomes a metaphor for the Israeli-Arab conflict and the ever-changing socio-political landscape of Israel. Gitai would go on to direct a trilogy of films about the home. The other films were “A House in Jerusalem” (1998) and “News from House” (2005), though they did not have the same impact as the original.

Kensky pointed out that the Hebrew word for “house” and “home” is the same. “We kind of romanticize the concept of home and separate it from the physical structure. But there’s no separation,” he said. “What we want to do [at the conference] is encourage people to explore not just the home and the idea of home, but the idea of ‘House,’ the idea of the structure as being as important.”

In the years since “House” was released, Gitai has expanded his lens with film commentary on Israeli military practices, border disputes and decisive events in Israel’s history. In that time, he said, public opinion about the hostilities has changed.

“The level of consciousness about the …. conflict has advanced since the ’80s,” Gitai said. “This awareness didn’t come with a low price.”

During his residency in May, Gitai will work with Stanford library and archive staff to add to and organize his existing work. The May 6 conference will feature other filmmakers and scholars of his work, including Columbia film professor Richard Pena, Jewish Theological Seminary professor Barbara Mann and Open University of Israel professor Adia Mendelson-Maoz.

“I’m looking forward to the seminar about my project,” Gitai said. “I don’t want to draw all the [attention] to me. It’s a group of very smart people and I hope I can contribute to it.”

“House”

6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 5. Part of “Rewind: The Shenson Retrospective Film Series.” Sponsored by Stanford’s Taube Center for Jewish Studies. At Hillel–Ziff Center, Koret Pavilion Building, 565 Mayfield Ave., Stanford. Free, registration required.

Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene is a J. Staff Writer. Originally from Vermont, she has a BA/MA in journalism from Boston University. Follow her on Twitter at @lilsleygreene.