When considering the possibilities of world peace, Israel is not usually the first country that springs to mind. But in the documentary Strangers No More, shown as part of London’s Jewish Film Festival, children from Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and many other countries learn and grow together within the safe confines of the Bialik-Rogozin school in Tel Aviv.
The camera is particularly talented at picking out the eyes of lonely newcomers and tracking their first, hesitant smiles and it lingers on what is undoubtedly the star, an Ethiopian boy named Johannes. He first sidles into the frame a speechless new kid. Soon, though, the film is racing to keep up with him as he pedals through town on a brand new bike. Johannes father, meanwhile, is encouraged by the school to make the first steps towards applying for a working visa.
Unfortunately, though, he is unlikely to have got it, said Shevy Korzen, former director of a hotline for migrant workers in Israel who was speaking at the event. Although Israel was involved in the drafting of the 1951 Refugee Convention, today less than 1% of asylum seekers, or “infiltrators” as they are officially known, are recognised as refugees.
But does film have to show the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Shevy thinks not. She said of Strangers No More that it was an honest portrayal of what went on in that particular school. “I don’t think film is ever representative, but it has the power to move us and the power to show us people we wouldn’t normally see. It has an ability to open our eyes.”