Israel's Own After-school Special

Movies touching on the real-life problems of kids are being featured on the HOT and Yes channels.

A group of children solves a string of break-ins in their neighborhood. A young Arab girl goes to study science, with feminist and subversive results. A girl with a highly developed social conscience becomes a victim of ostracism but is saved thanks to her cleverness. Two brothers are forced to leave home and attend a boarding school where they experience adjustment difficulties.

These are examples of the stories portrayed in films made by youngsters in the "Yeladim Yotzrim Sratim" ("Kids Make Movies" ) and "Sratim Mehahayim" ("Movies from Life" ) projects that are being screened, respectively, on the HOT and Yes children's channels as of Sunday. These cable and satellite TV programs aren't new ("Kids Make Movies" is in its 11th year; "Movies from Life" in its seventh ) and are almost exclusively based on the work of kids who write the films' scripts and star in them. The results are refreshing: short movies that observe reality and talk about it from a perspective no adult screenwriter could possibly have written.

Take, for example, the movie "Look at Me," of the HOT "Kids Make Movies" project, created by a group from the Yavne'eli School in Rehovot. Liel Magen plays Neta, a school-yard peacekeeper. When Neta's classmates are cruel toward another girl, she intervenes but pays a price as the kids ostracize her. The hurt pulsing from the screen jolts every adult in the audience back to childhood.

"Our instructors leading our group the asked us to write a real life story," says Magen, 11. "Most of the kids wrote about ostracism, so it seemed to make sense to make a movie about it. It's something all of us has experienced and can connect with. I thought the topic was tough and didn't know how to tackle it."

Yuval Agameso, 11 and a half: "We came up with the ideas, we rehearsed and then put on a play. Then we sent the script to the children's channel. We were really excited when we realized we were actually going to be shooting a movie. We played improvisation games all year long and, based on how we acted, the instructors decided who was going to play what role."

The "Kids Make Movies" project, carried out with the cooperation of the Education Ministry and Lahav, an NGO promoting social values, asks children to submit ideas for scripts. Hili Horev Cassuto, director of the HOT children's channel HOT, explains that after receiving and selecting a proposal, instructors begin to work with the class of the child who suggested it. The germ of the story is developed by means of improvisations and a workshop, followed by filming and editing of a movie.

As one can imagine, the children involved face a range of challenges en route. "I always watched these movies and thought they were about imaginary things," says Agameso, "but now I realize that these are real issues, things that have happened to real kids."

Magen: "It was both fun and hard. We had to think about the script and scenes over and over again. On the first day of filming we were supposed to shoot a scene at the grocery store, and it took two hours. That was tough, but it was also nice because we were all together and laughing."

It's not an easy topic, and the movie is somewhat sad. Do you think many kids will connect with it?

Magen: "I think so. Almost every kid has at some point either been ostracized or has ostracized others."

Agameso: "I think the movie will touch many kids, and maybe it will even help some."

Not for everyone

"Lions," a film from the "Movies from Life" project, has a different feel - a comic-detective one, reminiscent of stories of children's gangs such as "Emil and the Detectives" or even the Israeli "Gingi" ("Redhead" ) series. After a string of break-ins in the neighborhood, the children in this movie decide to set up a policing force to solve the robberies. They succeed and even experience a dramatic turning point in the middle of the plot.

The movies in this project are made by kids in after-school groups run in various locales in Israel's geographical and socioeconomic periphery. "Lions" was made by a group in Pardes Hannah, and the participants in it include Bat-El Hoter, 11 and a half, and Hamudi Haradan, 9 and a half. The two say that the idea for the movie emerged from their joint work in the group.

"The group leaders told us we were going to make a movie, and we thought it would be fun to make one with a detective story," says Haradan. "The leaders wrote the script based on what we suggested and we started auditions. Everyone presented something. It took a while but we finally worked the idea out. Two weeks before the shooting, they told us what we have to do and the role each of us was going to play. We decided which clothing to wear in each of the scenes."

Hoter, for example, was cast in a leading role, as one of the "commanders" of the young force, and appears in the movie wearing a red beret perched on her head. "It was fun but also hard," she says, "because there was a lot to learn and I had to stay aroung way more than anyone else. When we worked on the movie, I'd stay there until nine or 10 at night. We'd shoot a scene someplace and then have to run to change clothing for the next scene. But it was also fun to hang out with all the kids."

Can anyone make a movie?

Both shake their heads in an emphatic "no." Hoter: "It's not for everyone. You have to pay attention, you have to stay focused."

Haradan: "You have to be focused and patient, and not get annoyed. It's very hard. There are some moments that are really tough, but my dream was to be in one of these movies. I watch TV and I love what they do. Now that I've done it, I want to continue."

Hoter: "Me, too. This was just the first installment."

Both of them smile.

Haradan and Hoter mentioned the project's popularity vis-a-vis the target audience. For her part, HOT's Horev Cassuto says "this is our greatest success," and adds: "In my opinion, the accomplishment is significant because these movies bring the audience something that cannot be achieved any other way: [a look at] children's deliberations and decisions, their feelings, dreams and fears. The results are authentic and sensitive movies reflecting culture and reality from an unexamined point of view, which come from places that are at the margins of society and the mainstream."