Rock in the Red Zone: an intimate glimpse of Israel

Rock in the Red Zone is the most recent documentary from director Laura Bialis, whose former pieces include View From the Bridge: Stories From Kosovo, Refusenik, Daybreak Berlin, and Tak for Alt: Survival of a Human Spirit. Fancy Film has had the privilege of working on this film and seeing its journey all the way to theaters.

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In some ways, its inception had fateful origins. Bialis visited Israel to conduct some interviews during the filming of Refusenik in 2004. She had visited Israel as a child, and her return as an adult reignited her connection with the country. It also provided her with a vital tip that would become her next film: on the edge of the Negev Desert, a town called Sderot was being hit with homemade rockets from nearby Hamas in Gaza.

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At the time, this wasn’t happening elsewhere in Israel. Sderot civilians were under fire as if in a minute warzone. Running to the bomb shelter happened throughout the day. Yet Sderot was not just a dusty town. In the pressure of its Gaza proximity, Sderot had a reputation as a creative fount of Israeli music, the home of a disproportionate amount of musicians, bands, singers, and poets. From Sderot’s population of Middle Eastern and North African Jews, a unique fusion music had arisen. Add to that a bomb shelter rock club called Sderock, and, as Bialis puts it, “the film was writing itself”.

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Indeed, if you can’t tell from her other documentaries, this is the kind of story that would draw Bialis like moth to flame (except in this case, the moth gains much!) She had to go to Sderot.

Like a true documentarian daughter, she initially obscured her exact location in Israel from her parents, knowing they would worry. She was on a mission. Sderot called to a question that had nagged Bialis since a young age: “We live in this American bubble where we have everything, and I asked myself, ‘What is it like when you’re always fighting for your survival? How are people living in this place?’” The theme of how people rise above hardship became the foothold of Rock in the Red Zone. And the format is quotidian. Bialis chose to fill in the gap left by most media addressing Israel. How do Israelis, particularly Sderotis, live on an everyday basis in the midst of a conflict most Americans only know through news? Bialis shows you the real, diverse, dizzyingly energetic picture of Israel, alive. Equally, she shows the extent of war’s destructiveness beyond a body count.

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Probably the most fascinating part about this documentary is Bialis’s commitment to open-endedness. She didn’t think twice about journeying to Israel, and she found her story there over time. She stayed there many more years than expected. Part of the joy of this documentary is watching her evolving relationship with Israel and the people of Sderot.

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It was only years down the rabbit-hole that Fancy Film would join the journey of Rock in the Red Zone. Her transient story-seeking had relinquished a home editing bay. Having heard of Fancy through word of mouth, Bialis brought her footage there. “Bill has this unique model of post production in which they keep all the elements, so they’re able to do changes when you need them,” commended Bialis. “It’s a place where indie filmmakers can achieve all of their deliverable goals with ease and efficiency.” As a roaming documentarian, she found an editing home at Fancy. All of us at Fancy are pleased to host her!
Check out Rock in the Red Zone in LA right now at Laemmle Theaters, and keep an eye on upcoming screenings here.

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