The Pattern in the Carpet

It's not often that a film like "Naseej" ("Fabric of Life") is aired on Israeli commercial television. Not only is it a documentary, but it is in Arabic, with Hebrew and English subtitles, and its subject is a weaving workshop for Bedouin women in the Negev.

The film, which will be broadcast on Channel Two at 11 P.M. on Saturday, is director Timna Rosenheimer's third documentary. Ruth Dayan, the first wife of the late Moshe Dayan, is also involved in the project. It was Dayan who introduced Rosenheimer to the subjects of the film through her activities in the Negev and her knowledge of weaving.

"The first time I went to the Negev, I came with Ruth, who took me to see the workshop," Rosenheimer said this week, in a joint interview with Dayan. We met in Dayan's pleasant home, which is filled with art.

"[It's in] a Bedouin town in the northern Negev, a very modest, simple place, Rosenheimer said. "In the midst of this nothingness, these women's attempt to create an active center that creates jobs for them and gives them an opportunity to change their lives in some way stands out. We began circulating among the Bedouin communities and getting to know some amazing women, with difficult histories, and they spoke with great openness."

Rosenheimer and Dayan have known each other a long time. Dayan was a friend of Rosenheimer's mother, Catherine Rosenheimer, who for many years wrote about fashion and culture for The Jerusalem Post.

Dayan said she became acquainted with Lakiya Negev Weaving around 15 years ago, when it was established. Today it is managed by Hadra El-Sana, a local Bedouin herself. "The experience reminded me of the work with new immigrants that led to the creation of Maskit," Dayan said, referring to the state-sponsored fashion and handicraft enterprise she founded and headed. She recalled purchasing a ton of wool for Maskit from Bedouin families in the Negev in the 1950s.

"This tradition of weaving, is gradually disappearing," Rosenheimer explained; the next generation of Bedouin will not carry it on, she said. "It's very hard physical work, it is wearing and even painful. It is done outside, in the yard, while sitting on the ground at a loom fashioned from cast-off olive tins and sticks of wood. It was important to me to describe this tradition. It is work that results in an amazing and colorful creation, so rich in desert hues. This story goes beyond the rug that is created, to the color and beauty of it. Beyond the artistry and aesthetics, there is also the story of a life and that is the significance of a documentary," Rosenheimer said.

Would you say the film focuses less on the actual weaving and more on the women's lives? "The project's purpose was to enable women to remain at home and still manage to earn a living, because it is problematic for these women to work outside the home. The craft of weaving is the backdrop for the story of their lives, and there is a whole world of oppression and hardships there. It's a different society, a different culture, conservative, with a deep-rooted tradition of many years, and women who are continually subjugated. There is the oppression of the Bedouin tradition, the oppression within their society and the women oppressing themselves. The Bedouins are the most discriminated-against group in Israeli society, and in Bedouin society the women are the most underprivileged."

Rosenheimer's first documentary, from 2000, is "Achoti," about the relationship among six sisters. In "Ima" ("Mummy," 2006), she documented her pregnancy and the first year of her son's life. (Rosenheimer is married to Haaretz writer Ari Shavit. They have two children).

She sees "Naseej" as the third in a trilogy of women's films.

"The first and the third deal with the experiences of women who are dramatically different from me - and from most viewers, actually. They are women whose voices are silenced. The goal is to connect to them from a position of understanding at eye level, in a quiet and restrained manner."

"Naseej" was screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival this summer and competed in the Spirit of Freedom international documentary competition. This does not guarantee a large viewing audiences on Saturday night, however. This does not trouble Rosenheimer, who is a little surprised by the fact that it will be broadcast at all. "It is not in any way a given for this film to be shown. My expectations are modest. It is a small film and is different from most of what is shown on commercial television."

It seems that films like "Naseej" are becoming increasingly rare in any event, primarily because of the lack of screening options. Rosenheimer agrees: "The entire genre of documentaries is gradually disappearing. It is hard to make films and there is a real crisis in the world of independent documentary filmmaking. It's almost like carpet-weaving; the culture has changed."