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Articolo da Ruth Broyde Sharone

Remembering Mira Hamermesh

 

Remembering Mira Hamermesh, February 20, 2012

by Ruth Broyde Sharone

Friend , mentor, agitator, advocate, adventurer, warrior, artist, filmmaker, firebrand, critical and loving mother, absentee wife, devoted sister and aunt, doting grandmother, novelist, innovator, feminist, devil's advocate, defender of Israel, critic of Israel. Who was she?

I met Mira in 1969 when I was assigned to be her assistant at the Documentary Film  Department of the newly-formed and still unproven Israel TV. We worked at Reshet Aleph in Jerusalem, Israel's one and only government-owned  TV station. Mira and some 30 other people from around the  world had been brought in as experts to teach the local Israelis how to run a TV station and how to make documentary films.  

Mira was familiar with Israel because her older brother and sister had lived in  Israel for many years, after their narrow escape from war-torn Poland.  Mira moved to London, but in 1969 their "baby sister" came on the Israeli scene like a firecracker,  eager to be part of the pioneering team of TV experts and light up the skies.  I was privileged to be at her side as her assistant for two documentaries that she directed.  One was called Fighters of the Ghetto-- filmed on the kibbutz were the survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto had gathered after they escaped to Palestine;  and one was called Hashish Youth which dealt with the subculture of juvenile delinquents in Israel and included filming in high-security prisons.

Mira quickly shook up any notions the Israeli TV crews had about what constituted a documentary film and how to shoot it.

Nothing about Mira was ordinary or acquiescent.  Not her speech, her dress, her ideas, her romances, her vision, or the implementation of her vision.  She startled the seasoned "macho"  Israeli cameramen by suggesting shots that were bold and untried. They followed her around like devoted puppies after she shook up their original reaction of not wanting to work with a woman director. They waited to see what she would try next such as when she projected flickering film images on the faces and bodies of the cheeky delinquent boys and girls she was interviewing at night on the beaches of Tel Aviv, where she seduced her subjects into revealing their innermost thoughts.  

I also had an opportunity to see the feature films she made while studying at the government film school in Poland (where Roman Polanski was a classmate of hers).  Her black and  white film Passport was a tone poem of despair conveying the brutal displacement of Jews who survived World War II death camps and crematoria.  The stark images and the haunting music she chose encapsulated the loss of the refugees' identities and perhaps even her own. Like her, her films were profound, richly nuanced, provocative, and unflinching. 

When her time at Israel TV expired, she was hired to write a screenplay based on Lionel Davidson's book, Making Good Again, and once again I had the privilege of being her assistant, this time as a screenwriter. While we were holed up at the American Colony Hotel  in East Jerusalem for several months, I would sit at the typewriter  trying to keep up with her rapid fire mind as she would effortlessly spin out the scenes, crafting details of pure cinematic brilliance that left me  breathless.  Until now I  still recall one of the most dramatic scenes she devised while  I was at her side some 40 years ago, a  vivid, unnerving scene that brought into play all of her talents as painter as well as filmmaker.  Mira taught me the language of cinema, of manipulating time and place.  She explained the process of pre-editing the final film while writing and of revealing the story in stages.  She shared with me the reduced-to-its-essence method that she had worked out in great detail in her head.  I was enthralled. I never forgot her lessons. 

Our friendship continued even when she went back to London.  I  would  visit and often hunker down for a few weeks in her vibrantly colored, ethnic-themed flat where books and ideas always reigned supreme.  She introduced me to  all of her friends and to her family.  She made me feel that I was also family.

She was an ardent feminist and  she initiated me into her "feminist sorority" by making  sure I had read all of  the pertinent books of that era.  She would prod and bait me, grill, and sometimes berate me for not being up to date on the developments of the feminist movement.  Sparks of intellectual conversation and lively debate ricocheted across the air.  I  don't think we ever sat in silence together.  There was always too much to  be said and shared.

A small woman compared to my five foot nine inches, she used to call me  "My big Ruthy" but I always had the feeling that she towered above me.  She was a faithful friend and mentor, inquiring about my boyfriends, my plans, my dreams.  She introduced me to her son, Jeremy, and her ex-husband, Richard, and to Roslyn, her husband's second wife with whom she was good friends.  

I also knew about both her cinematic triumphs and her cinematic disappointments.  She frequently encountered powerful executives in English  television who felt challenged by her strength and talent and who often wouldn't let her enter the men's "back room" or sit in the director's chair. As one of the men in the English television establishment once said to me about her, "When Mira entered the room, she stirred the air and we knew she would be trouble."  She was a woman with a powerful presence and a powerful mission.  However much flak and resistance she faced, she  could never be swayed from her projects.  The executives who came to know her well and appreciated her brilliance became witnesses and  supporters of her finest work.  

In England, in Israel, and abroad she continued to make strong, uncompromising  films on the women of South Africa (Maids and  Madams), on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (Talking to the Enemy), on the endearing schizophrenics of Jerusalem who all believed they were Jesus, Mary,  or Moses, (Holy Madness), on the cultural and religious taboos facing the women of India, (Caste at Birth), etc., etc.--plus she always had a drawer-full  of potential scripts. She made more than 18 films, many of which won  prizes.

Her mind was restless and creative and her enthusiasm for  life was palpable, even when she was confined to her bed with painful back spasms. Cinemateques and galleries organized retrospectives of her films and of her art in England, Israel and the States.  In fact a new retrospective was being planned for her in London for this coming year.

I thought about all of this when I visited her in London last November in the convalescent home, after she suffered a stroke while she was still battling cancer.  Her left side was still partially paralyzed but her mind and her spirit were still bright and fiery.  Cancer was not going to have its way with her.  I enjoyed sitting with her, reminding myself how grateful I was to have experienced her as friend and  mentor for most  of  my lifetime, even when we were thousands of miles apart.  She chastised me for not coming to  visit her the day before, even though she knew the doctors wouldn't let me come because  she was undergoing tests.  "But I am here now," I insisted.  "And now is what counts."

Her grandson, Ben, tall, lanky and bespectacled, now in his  20's, suddenly appeared at the door of her room.  I hadn't seen him since he was about 10 years old.  I noticed how Mira lit up when he entered.  He brought newspapers to read to her and he sat on the bed, at her side.  Ben chatted amiably with me, and I reminisced about meeting his father so many decades ago.  I took some photos of Mira, by herself, and with Ben, their heads leaning against one another. The affection between them was obvious.  I kissed her and left the room with a resigned feeling of sadness, anticipating that it might be the last time I would see her. It was.

Mira Hamermesh: who was she?

Friend , mentor, agitator, advocate, adventurer, warrior, artist, filmmaker, firebrand, critical and loving mother, absentee wife, devoted sister and aunt, doting grandmother, novelist, innovator, feminist, devil's advocate, defender of Israel, critic of Israel. Who was she?

She was all this and more.  I will miss her.  

They say that when someone dies, they are at rest.  But not Mira.  I can see her now, rabble-rousing in heaven, making  sure that the female angels have equal billing, and that they don't have to serve the male angels coffee--unless they want to!  


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