From: Nov ’05 Spotlight: In September 2004, Joseph Cedar’s film Campfire received five Ophir Awards from the Israeli Academy for Film including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. But when it made its American debut one month later at last year’s Chicago International Film Festival, Campfire received mixed reviews from the local press. Attendance was disappointing, and none of the major distributors would commit to a theatrical release.

What went wrong? American audiences not immersed in Israeli culture seem to have missed the underlying dynamics of this intimate story, reducing the main character, a widow named Rachel, to someone looking for a new husband. But during a long conversation with Cedar here in Chicago, he said that understanding his film begins with understanding its title: “In Hebrew, the title Medurat Hashevet has a dual meaning. Literally ‘medurat hashevet’ means tribal campfire, but it’s also an expression defining who’s an insider and who’s an outsider.”

The plot of Campfire, which is set in the early ‘80s, revolves around Rachel’s desire to be accepted into a newly forming settlement on the West Bank. According to Cedar, though, “Campfire is not about religious settlers or right-wing settlers; it’s about elitism. And the theme is how far someone will go to be accepted or ‘hugged’ by his community.”

In Campfire, Motkeh, the leader of the settlement, is not bad in the sense of evil. But all the things that the other characters in the movie do result from the pressure that Motkeh puts on them. “Motkeh is a force in his society; it’s subtle because, at least on the face of things, he’s always trying to help people, to do things for the good of others. But he’s intimidating and patronizing, so he’s a negative force. The heroes that I find myself attracted to are people [like Rachel] who are strong enough to break away from the social glue that numbs the conscience.”

Local audiences can see Campfire on Monday, Nov. 7 at the Skokie Public Library. For more information, check their website:

To read more about Campfire in the context of Cedar’s first film, A Time of Favor, visit:

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