Between Integration and Exile: "Russian" Filmmaking in Israel

Article excerpt

Since 1989, nearly one million immigrants from the Former Soviet Union have arrived in Israel. Their steady influx has quickly become the largest surge of immigration in Israel's history and has had an unmistakable impact on the cultural, economic, and political character of the State. ' In comparison to their previous position within Soviet society, the growing "Russian" community in Israel has encountered a tremendous decline in both its economic and professional status, while, paradoxically, quickly gaining access to political power, as well as to other cultural, and predominantly mediated, forms of self-representation. Through these media outlets, they have not only been able to maintain use of the Russian language as a cultural unifier, but have also been able to designate a distinct communal identity and depict their unique diasporic experiences. I am placing the designation "Russian" in quotation marks in order to call attention to its constructed nature. In Israel, immigrants from the Former Soviet Union (from here on, FSUIs) have been assigned the homogeneous ethnic label of "Russian," whether they are in fact from Russia proper, Belarus, Georgia, or the Ukraine.

Though it has been argued that the proliferation of ethnic/minority media aids in the preservation of cultural identity and restricts the processes of assimilation,2 it is my contention that these FSUI media texts cannot be divorced from their institutionalized modes of production, nor from the elite position of their producers, who often occupy an intermediary space between the community they seek to represent and the industry/society they wish to engage. These contradictions have contributed to the emergence of competing integrationist and segregationist discourses that can be traced throughout these texts. These tendencies can be detected within the narratives and styles of certain texts, between the texts themselves and their modes of production and distribution, as well as in their overall placement within the Israeli culture industries.

As such, this paper explores not only the interaction between global flows of people and media, but also the negotiated existence of this interrelationship, which is still very much tied to the specificity of their mutual destinations; in this instance the nation-state of Israel. As Hamid Nancy has asserted in regard to the experiences of different communities living in the diaspora, "all displaced people do not experience exile equally or uniformly. Exile discourse thrives on detail, specificity, and locality."3 The generalizing trends attributed to the processes of globalization encounter resistance when they attempt to infiltrate the context-bound structures and ideologies of individual states. The result, in the case of FSU immigration to Israel, is a move away from the segregationist potential of media created by and for this immigrant community, toward a more hybridized conception of identity that emerges through competing discourses of national belonging and displacement.

I am interested in the ways that cultural hybridity negotiates discourses of belonging and displacement as often experienced by exilic communities, rather than connoting an assemblage or combination of these two positions. As such, I focus on the mechanisms and processes, institutional and cultural, which help to structure this "in-betweeness."4 Thus, while I firmly believe that FSU genre films are invariably hybrid in their thematics and modes of production, I also contend that this results precisely from the negotiation of discourses of integration and segregation, belonging and displacement, that these cultural producers must engage with as intermediaries seeking to exchange one form of cultural capital (as representatives of their communities) for another (as filmmakers within Israel).

In general, I seek to complicate Naficy's work on exilic cinema by investigating the appropriateness and limitations of his model in the case of FSUI media production practices in Israel. …