Or­phaned by ide­al­ism

Di­rec­tor Ran­Tal fo­cuses on the kib­butz chil­dren who were sep­a­rated from their par­ents and raised ac­cord­ing to the prin­ci­ples of col­lec­tive liv­ing. It seemed a huge price to pay for utopia, he tells Nathan Jeffay

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

AN EL­DERLY Is­raeli man is ex­plain­ing how he got his name. “There was a vote… Nachum won by eight votes.” An­other man re­calls how he never called his par­ents “mummy” or “daddy”, only by their names. Any­thing else was “too bour­geois”. Th­ese are snip­pets from Chil­dren of the Sun, a doc­u­men­tary fea­ture show­ing for the first time in Bri­tain on Sun­day as part of the Is­rael Cin­ema Show­case sea­son. The speak­ers grew up on kib­butzim, and were sub­jected to rad­i­cal child-rear­ing meth­ods. The so­cial­ist-Zion­ists who es­tab­lished kib­butzim did not just want to build a new state. They also wanted to form what they called a “new Jew” — even a “new man”.

In con­trast to the cap­i­tal­ist West, where peo­ple were op­pressed by the tra­di­tional fam­ily struc­ture, kib­butz mem­bers were to live a utopia, cre­ated ac­cord­ing to Marx­ist and Freudian wis­dom. Chil­dren were to be the shared re­spon­si­bil­ity of the com­mu­nity, live in des­ig­nated chil­dren’s houses, and see their par­ents for two or three “qual­ity” hours a day.

Chil­dren of the Sun is a rare glimpse into this world. It is com­prised orig­i­nal footage from dozens of re­stored home movies, ac­com­pa­nied by in­ter­views with 30 chil­dren who grew up when this approach was at its most ex­treme, from the 1920s to the mid 1950s.

The in­ter­vie­wees ex­plain how th­ese par­ent hours never in­cluded bed-time — they were al­ways tucked up by their “care-givers”. They even ex­creted in ac­cor­dance with com­mu­nal ideals. One man re­calls how they all sat to­gether ready to go, and knew to “use the potty on com­mand”.

The film is di­rected by Ran Tal, a 44-year-old who, like his mother, grew up in the chil­dren’s house on Kib­butz Beit Hashita in the Jezreel Val­ley. By the time he was born, “the spirit had gone out of the sys­tem and things were re­laxed”. Chana, his mother, is one of the in­ter­vie­wees.

“It’s a doc­u­men­tary on a spe­cific theme, and I ex­pected it would not be pop­u­lar. I thought it would go from fes­ti­vals straight to DVD,” says Tal. How­ever, when it was re­leased last sum­mer, cine­mas were keen to screen it and 30,000 Is­raelis went to see it — an un­prece­dented num­ber for a doc­u­men­tary. It picked up the best doc­u­men­tary film award at last year’s Jerusalem Film Fes­ti­val.

The film deals with sep­a­ra­tion from par­ents; the at­mos­phere in the peer group; and the high ex­pec­ta­tions laid on chil­dren to be­come what one in­ter­vie­wee de­scribes as “the pro­to­types of the emerg­ing so­ci­ety”. It also charts the “dis­in­te­gra­tion” of com­mu­nal child-rear­ing, which ended with the clo­sure of the last chil­dren’s houses in the 1990s. “It re­ally was the birth of my own two chil­dren that started me off think­ing about the sub­ject of this film,” says Tal, who left Beit Hashita in his twen­ties to live in Tel Aviv. “I started to think about child­hood and to re­search the old kib­butz method. I found it dis­turb­ing in many ways — it seemed a huge price to pay to cre- ate a utopia.” Nev­er­the­less, Tal re­jects the no­tion that the film is polem­i­cal. “It’s not just a ques­tion of good or bad — this film is ex­plor­ing a cul­ture.

“The chal­lenge is that in home movies, peo­ple never shoot the sad sides of fam­ily life — you al­ways see the wed­dings but never the di­vorces. The kib­butz was one big fam­ily, and this film is an at­tempt to work through its mem­o­ries — those that are recorded on the mov­ing pic­tures, and those that aren’t.” Chil­dren of the Sun will be shown on Sun­day at 4.30pm at the Screen on the Hill, Lon­don NW3. Tel: 020 7435 3366

Th­ese kib­butz ba­bies, fea­tured in Ran Tal’s Chil­dren of the Sun, saw their moth­ers and fa­thers for only two to three “qual­ity” hours a day

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