Father Leads Drive to Get Arabic-dubbed Films Into Israeli Cinemas

A father's efforts to organize screenings of films dubbed into Arabic could spark new trend in local movie theaters.

Nirit Anderman
Nirit Anderman
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A scene from "Minions."
A scene from "Minions." Credit: AP
Nirit Anderman
Nirit Anderman

Israeli cinemas could experience a minor revolution thanks to the actions of an Arab father who wanted to take his children to the movies.

Several weeks ago, Tira resident Kamal Nasser found himself getting frustrated as he planned what to do with his kids, ages 7 and 5, during an upcoming vacation. “I wanted to take them to the movies. But then I thought that I would have to sit next to them throughout the film and translate [the Hebrew] for them, and that would disturb the other spectators in the theater,” he told Haaretz. “And then I thought to myself, Why aren’t there children’s films in movie theaters that are also dubbed into Arabic?”

Galvanized, Nasser went onto local multiplex chain Cinema City’s Facebook page and posted a message. “I asked why they don’t screen dubbed films in Arabic, and wrote that if they agreed to organize a screening, I was willing to help publicize it,” he recalled.

To his surprise, a reply wasn’t long in coming. “They replied that they had previously tried to show films dubbed in Arabic, but they weren’t very successful. However, they said they had a dubbed copy of ‘Minions’ and were willing to show it again.”

Nasser and a friend quickly started a Facebook page called “Madinat al-Afalm” (Cinema City, in Arabic), where they outlined their initiative to screen the dubbed version of “Minions” in Cinema City’s Kfar Sava and Jerusalem multiplexes. After hundreds of parents expressed their support for the idea, Nasser reported the response to Cinema City.

At this point, however, he received some disappointing news. It transpired that Cinema City’s copy of “Minions” wasn’t actually dubbed into Arabic, but merely had Arabic subtitles. Despite that, Nasser decided to continue encouraging Arabic speakers to attend the screening, in the hope that it would spark additional screenings in the future – perhaps even dubbed versions.

Cinema City arranged screenings of “Minions” with Arabic subtitles for a vacation in early January. Cinema City CEO Avi Edri said that there were two to three showings in Kfar Sava and Jerusalem each day. “On the first day, an average of 20-30 people came, and on the other days we had a fewer number. But that’s all right as far as we’re concerned: We were pleased to see a response, because we really want the Arab public to watch films in our theaters. We already screen films that are dubbed into French and Russian, and that works well. For some reason, it didn’t work for the Arab public until now.”

Edri added that Cinema City brought copies of two films with Arab subtitles to Israel last summer: the “Despicable Me’ spin-off “Minions” and the sci-fi actioner “Terminator Genisys.”

“We hoped that audiences from the Jerusalem area and the [Little] Triangle area [a region in central Israel, roughly bounded by the Arab towns of Baka al-Garbiyeh, Taibeh and Tira] would come to the screenings, but they didn’t,” he recalled. “We kept the copies of the films, though, and when Nasser turned to us, we told him that if he informed us there were enough people who wanted to come, we would screen them.” This coming summer, he continued, the chain is planning to bring copies of new releases translated into Arabic. “We’ll be very happy to host members of the Arab community in our movie theaters,” he said.

Israel is currently without a movie theater that shows films in Arabic. It doesn’t bother the adults so much, said Nasser, because most of them manage well enough with Hebrew, but it’s crucial for children because they still aren’t fluent in the language.

Last year, Jerusalem Cinematheque began translating selected films and screening them with Arabic subtitles. There, too, they found it a challenge to attract an audience. Their solution was to enlist the support of Arab institutions, who sent organized groups to the screenings.

Sikkuy – The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel, which helped publicize the “Minions” screenings on various social network sites, told Haaretz: “It may seem like a small step for equality, but it is also of great significance. Suddenly, the movie theaters in Kfar Sava became a shared space for Jews and Arabs, where Arabic and Arab citizens have a real and respected place. It’s also a real achievement in light of the gap in resources, because although there’s still no movie theater in Tira or any other Arab city in the area, the option of coming to see a film with the children has finally become open to thousands of families. Above all, when such a struggle succeeds, it proves there’s still hope, and that things can be changed – even in difficult times when words of hatred come from the most senior levels of government.”

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