The Women Pioneers

Michal Aviad
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From her early days as a filmmaker, Michal Aviad has focused on mapping out Israeli life in its entirety, internal contradictions and all, from a female point of view. Whether the style is direct cinema (Jenny and Jenny, 1997), diary form (For my Children, 2002), or a travel movie (Ever Shot Anyone?, 1995), the discussion remains anchored between the private and the historical and is ever underscored with a sense of urgency and mission. In each movie, Aviad opts for a different style of filmmaking through which she unfolds the narrative. In her glorious 2013 film, The Women Pioneers, Aviad travels roughly one hundred years into the past. Her protagonists are a group of women who immigrated to Palestine at the turn of the 20th century – women who left behind families, their language and culture, in order to build the Promised Land with their bare hands.

Aviad’s action here is twofold – giving the women who had been left behind and essentially, excised from the canonical narrative their presence back (“they didn’t have any streets named after them,” she observes) – and also presenting an alternative to the primary, and predominantly masculine narrative. To dig deep, she opts to focus on five striking and terrifically articulate young women who, at the time, were living in Kibbutz Ein Harod.

And in order to allow us, the viewers, a glimpse into their minds and inner selves, Aviad employs two primary tools: journals and letters, and archival footage.

The more intimate footage is a doorway into the women pioneers’ inner world: they dream of establishing a revolutionary society in Palestine; one that would allow women to be key partners in the nationwide socialist revolution, and to erect this novel eutopia. Aviad weaves these personal, heartrending texts together with archival footage shot at the time by local Jewish institutions as part of their “branding” campaign for the Zionist revolution.

The inner tension created by the pairing of the writers’ intimate voices with imagery that served an altogether different purpose produces a complex and layered cinematic text. The combination of the voices and old footage (the texts are read out by actresses of corresponding ages to the protagonists’) allows one to delve deep into the reality of local life in the throes of a Jewish socialist revolution, only this time from the ground up – the ones who narrate the course of events are the women, aided by Aviad. The narrative emerges from the individual’s own private sphere as opposed to the historian’s authoritative voice. The narrating voices that we hear capture both the hope and disillusionment, the passion and heartbreak but mostly, the sheer extent of the sacrifice asked of these women. The inner reckoning, too, is there all throughout; echoing intimately, painfully, and ever-consistently.

The film opens with footage with a diary excerpt: “Ein Harod, a typically boiling hot Israeli day. A harvested field of barley. My nerves are fraught to the extreme, and one feels as though there is only so much more of this that one can take.” It ends 50 minutes later with another diary excerpt: “Independence, femininity. The fight for independence has compromised femininity. Surely this must be the case, there can be no doubt about it. But I certainly did not see it that way. For me, this was a fight for my own self, where femininity and independence merge to become one. Others may very well consider this a conflict, a contradiction, a wavering. Perhaps. For me, a fulfilment of one’s femininity, of motherhood, was essential if one were to experience independence. And so it came to pass, even at the cost of humiliation. For me, it was worth my while.”


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