Film Forward’s Dancing in Jaffa and its principal subject world-renowned dancer Pierre Dulaine were recently showcased by the Aspen Institute Art Program at an event in Washington, DC. The Carnegie Institute of Peace provided a perfect setting for the film, which tells the story of what happens when Dulaine’s dream of bringing together Palestinian Israelis and Jewish Israelis youth through dance in the place of his birth collides with the region’s entrenched cultural, religious and political fears and suspicions. After the film’s screening, President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) member and Aspen Arts Program Director Damian Woetzel interviewed Dulaine.
Woetzel asked if he knew who among the hundreds of students would become the focus of the documentary. Dulaine said he was surprised by the young students who emerged to carry forward the documentary’s narrative since he was so immersed in the details of his project he didn’t know their personal stories until the film was almost finished. For generations Jaffa has been defined by inter-cultural hostility and hatred. For the children, Dulaine’s 10-week residency helped mend differences, and in the end the young stars of the film learn to regard each other as individuals rather than members of religious factions. However, these children and the audience at the screening share a common challenge. When Dulaine invited the audience to join him in a dance lesson, the same human dynamics and challenges of bringing middle-school boys and girls together to dance is no different than with adults in Washington DC with male audience members being very reluctant volunteers. In the end dance did win out. Since Dulaine’s visit to Jaffa, more than 1,000 students have learned to dance helping to bridge the divide between cultures and religion. The program continues today with two teaching artists following Dulaine’s methods.
Dancing in Jaffa is one of eight films in the President Committee’s Film Forward program, which like this film strives to inspire curiosity and change the way the world is perceived. It does this by inviting a select group of American and international filmmakers to share their films and engage in dialogue with audiences here and abroad. Dancing in Jaffa and its director travel to San Diego and China this year, and like this screening with Dulaine, the filmmaker will build connections and bridge differences with diverse audiences by participating in workshops, panels, and screenings at schools and universities, film and cultural centers, museums, libraries, and other community, educational, and cultural venues .