'Rock in the Red Zone': Film Review

Robby Elmaliah
A moving profile in musical courage

Laura Bialis' documentary chronicles the musical scene in Sderot, a small Israeli city under constant barrage by enemy missiles.

Life in the small Israeli city of Sderot isn't easy. Located at the edge of the Negev Desert on the border of Gaza, it's continually prey to rocket attacks by the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah. Nonetheless, the besieged community is a hotbed of musical vibrancy, thanks to the influx of refugees from North Africa and various countries in the Middle East who have infused its music with ethnically diverse elements. This vibrant if dangerously volatile scene is chronicled in Laura Bialis' documentary Rock in the Red Zone.

As seen in the film shot in 2007-2008, the city's residents have adapted to their precarious situation. Windows in both homes and cars are left open to better hear the tinny air raid warning alarm. Even then, people have to move fast; because of their close proximity to their enemies, citizens have roughly 15 seconds to take refuge. Children's playgrounds are equipped with specially designed kid-friendly shelters.

Read More Julianne Moore to Reteam With Todd Haynes for 'Wonderstruck'

The film focuses on a handful of the city's musicians, including Micha Biton, whose music is heavily influenced by Moroccan sounds; singer Hagit Yaso, whose parents emigrated from Ethiopia and who sings in Hebrew, English and Arabic, among other languages; Teapacs, a band whose members have Tunisian, Moroccan, Romanian, Syrian, Polish, Russian and Yemenite heritage and whose album sales exceed 300,000; and Avi Vaknin, a singer, composer and music producer who for many years managed Sderock, a music club and educational center for teenagers. All are featured in extensive performance footage, with subtitles conveying the often politically charged lyrics.

If Bialis seems to be particularly concentrating on Vaknin, it's understandable. Midway through the film he proposes marriage on camera; at that point the proceedings take on a more personal slant, with the filmmaker chronicling the progress of their relationship and even shooting their wedding festivities.

Read More How 'Son of Saul' Defied the Dangers of Re-Creating the Holocaust

Although undercut at times by self-indulgence that includes navel-gazing narration by the filmmaker, Rock in the Red Zone delivers a moving portrait of a musical community that's managed to survive under far greater pressures than worrying about the next gig.

Production: Foundation for Documentary Projects
Director-producer: Laura Bialis
Directors of photography: Noam Teich, Ronen Kruk, Yehuda Peretz, Roby Elmaliah, Aner Moss
Editors: Helen Kearns, Azin Samari
Composer: Avi Vaknin

Not rated, 87 minutes