The Jerusalem Post
Setting the Bar
The Docaviv documentary festival includes a focus on ethnic music giant Shlomo Bar
If a filmmaker is looking for a “sexy” main character to spearhead a documentary and get the media and public to sit up and take note, Shlomo Bar is a definitive godsend.
now in his late 70s, Bar has been at the forefront of the ethnic – aka world music – scene here for nigh on half a century, as the vocalist, percussionist and undisputed leader and driving force behind the (In english they call themselves “natural Gathering”) band he founded in 1977. that followed an earlier prominent foray into the previously little-known twilight zone of east-west musical synergy when he composed the score for a play by yehoshua Sobol and noa Chelton called (nerves). the script touched on the then very raw nerve end of social injustice and discrimination again mizrahi jews in Israel. that suited moroccan-born Bar down to the ground.
that, and how far Bar has come in the meantime, are central to a new film by Gilad Inbar called
which will be premiered at this year’s docaviv documentary film festival, which opened at the tel aviv Cinematheque on july 1. Inbar’s work will be screened on july 7 (7 p.m.), and july 8 (5:15 p.m.) with a Q&a session with the filmmaker and Bar scheduled to follow the second showing.
Bar has always come across as a colorful, provocative, charismatic and divisive type. he has expressed his anger towards the ashkenazi establishment in no uncertain terms on numerous occasions in his time. having met and interviewed him on several occasions over the past twoplus decades, I can attest to that myself.
hence my surprise at the septuagenarian I encountered in Inbar’s film. now sporting a gray beard, a striking counterpoint aesthetic addition to his enduring dark locks, Bar comes across as a far more reflective man who, it seems, has learned a few lessons along his rocky path through life to date.
“the passing of the years provides some kind of perspective that makes it possible to view things differently,” Inbar muses. “Suddenly you can see the significance of things during the course of time.”
that may be so, but Bar being Bar, he doesn’t mince his words. as quick as he was to unload his frustration with what he perceived as politically fueled deprivation, across the years, he now speaks in more conciliatory tones. regardless, the director feels that does not mean Bar is ready to just roll over and play the nice guy.
“I think that one of Shlomo’s virtues, at least at his current stage of life, is that he doesn’t cut corners,” Inbar suggests. “at several junctures in the film he asks for forgiveness from people he has hurt. For me that is inspiring, that he is able to ask for forgiveness and take responsibility for his actions. he doesn’t plead, and he doesn’t say things like ‘you didn’t understand me’ or “I didn’t mean it’ or ‘that’s how you see it, but I see it differently.’ he first apologies – a heartfelt apology – and then he considers how not to hurt that person, or anyone else, in the future. that, for me, is very noteworthy, and is testimony to Shlomo’s maturity.”
By all accounts, Inbar has done a fine job with this portrait of one of this country’s music sector’s most compelling stalwarts. If you are going to get your protagonist to open up and deliver the alluring personal goods, achieving that frustratingly elusive fly-on-the-wall vantage point is a prerequisite. Inbar clearly managed that.
“that’s my job, and I think that is what everyone wants, everyone who participates in the film wants it to be genuine. my role was to create the conditions for that to happen.” mind you, this was no shot-in-the-dark enterprise. “I started filming in 2016, and we kept going with it until just before the pandemic broke out,” Inbar advises.
It was a learning curve for all involved.
“Quite a few things happened along the way,” he notes. But the man stuck to his task and ended up with a seductive portrayal of an intriguing man. Still, while Bar is a juicy subject for any documentarist to sink his molars into, the now 78-year-old is, first and foremost, a musician and, surely, that is the raison d’être for the whole documentary exercise in the first place.
regardless, while the output of Bar and habreira hativit, across its numerous personnel fluctuations, has certainly left its lasting mark on the domestic and international scene, “Shlomo Bar – a documentary musical” is really about the man himself, and his long and winding personal road.
there is a widely held rational observation that the artist and the person are one and the same. the creative process, indeed, demands some level of technical expertise, but the crux of any work of art is the individual baggage and unique reading that inform the visual or auditory bottom line. that was core to Inbar’s mindset throughout the project. “I gave the title of the film because I don’t make any distinction between Shlomo and his work, and his life. the songs in the film I made are not fillers, or continuity bits, they are part of the movie plot, just like in a musical.”
anyone Who has ever caught habreira hativit do its thing or stage, or even just lent an ear to one of the band’s albums, can’t have failed to register the irrepressible delivery of Bar’s vocals and percussive work.
“Shlomo is an amazing creator. he is a force of nature,” says Inbar. “as soon as Shlomo opens his mouth and begins to sing you feel that it sources some depths, some great depths. Shlomo is not a singer-songwriter as such. he almost never writes lyrics.”
the filmmaker suggests that Bar’s choice of textual substrata reflects his take on life.
“he appropriates texts from the Scriptures, and his choice of words to the tunes he writes is very precise. It is always a very personal choice, and he offers himself [to the public] through the songs he composes.”
and, despite Bar’s longstanding almost militant persistence with portraying the injustices dished out by the state to mizrahi jews, Inbar believes that the view that Bar is vehemently anti-ashkenazi is unfounded.
“I think Shlomo knows how to take the best from the east and the West. When you examine his choice of texts, you see that he doesn’t confine himself to mizrachi texts. he goes for the things that move him.”
one of the group’s best-known numbers provides wellaired collateral to that approach.
“possibly his most memorable song, ‘ritzato Shell haoleh danino’ (‘Immigrant danino’s run’) is based on the words of [polish-born Israel prize recipient writer natan] alterman. there is also material by [polish-born avraham] halfi and he worked with [poet] yona Wollach.”
the latter was born in pre-state palestine to parents who made aliyah from Bessarabia.
“and there’s ‘moroccan Wedding’ by [algerian-born poet] erez Biton,” says Inbar, referencing yet another habreira hativit nugget. “Shlomo is like an orchestra conductor. he reflects the miracle of the Israeli cultural melting pot, and the amazing spiritual and musical culture of the people in this country.” the filmmaker eventually owns up to an ulterior motive. “I’d like to introduce Shlomo’s work to a new generation of listeners. his music is a precious asset. It took a lot of work to get this film made, but it was definitely worth it.”
just in case you don’t make it over to the tel aviv Cinematheque you might catch it on Kan 11 a little down the line.
elSeWhere In the docaviv program, music lovers may want to attend the screening of which relates the story of Shoshana damari, Israel’s first bona fide diva. and there is an emotive portrayal of one of the pioneering figures of the early 1960s folk-blues revival scene in Greenwich Village,
other musical doc slots worth freeing up an hour or two for include about the turbulent life of dynamo rock singer tina turner, about legendary Beatles’ producer George martin’s hideaway studio on the island of montserrat, and in which 1,000 amateur rock musicians join forces in the hope of getting feted uS rock band Foo Fighters to play a gig in their town.