August 25, 2005
Sweet Break From Sour Reality
"Pickles, Inc." is an unpretentious PBS documentary about eight Arab widows from a village in northern Israel, who break all kinds of traditions by starting a tiny factory producing homemade pickles.
As modest as it seems, "Pickles," which airs Tuesday, Aug. 30 at 9 p.m. on KCET, can be viewed on surprisingly varied levels: as part of the recent trend by Israeli filmmakers to explore sympathetically the daily lives of their Arab countrymen; as the struggle of Arab women to stir against generations of submission by testing the boundaries of their independence; as a portrayal of the joys and pitfalls facing novices trying to start their own small business.
Finally -- and this matters, too -- the film provides a bit of lighthearted news from a land of generally shrieking and frequently depressing, doom-saying headlines.
When Israeli filmmaker Dalit Kimor first approached the eight women from the village of Tamra in the Galilee, she faced a mutual language barrier and the insistence of the "cast" on an all-female film crew.
Once Kimor gained their confidence, the mostly middle-aged women proved to be high-spirited, salty characters, whose resilience -- in the face of permanent widowhood, troubled children, lack of education, social taboos, and complete ignorance of business -- is truly bracing.
As the proprietors of the Azka Pickle Cooperative spend long hours slicing, dicing and preparing their product, jar by jar, according to old family recipes, they have to teach themselves such arcane skills as marketing, distribution, and accounting.
Samara, as the only one with a ninth-grade education and a knowledge of Hebrew, is elected as the director of the enterprise.
Almaza, the sole car owner, becomes the sales director and distributor.
After their shifts, Fatma and Marina each have eight children to take care of.
Like many other first-time entrepreneurs, the pickle-makers ultimately find themselves in over their heads, but each emerges as a stronger, more independent woman.
Happily, there isn't a single scene or complaint about Israeli checkpoints, discrimination or dispossession. The sole inter-ethnic question is: Will Israeli Jews like Arab pickles?
"Pickles, Inc." airs at 9 p.m. on the "Wide Angle" program www.pbs.org/wnet/wideangle.