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Focus on WIZO: Immigrant Students at WIZO Nahalal Win Prestigious Film Prize

Four immigrant students from the former USSR who study and live at WIZO Nahalal Youth Village as part of the Na'aleh program, turned the struggle of integration into an award-winning film.

August 01, 2016


Four 12th-grade students who made Aliyah to Israel four years ago as part of the Na'aleh (a Hebrew acronym for "youth immigrating before parents") program at WIZO Nahalal Youth Village, created a film about their process of absorption and integration and wound up winning first prize from among 120 other competitors from high-school film study tracks across the country.

Na'aleh, a collaboration between the Jewish Agency, Youth Aliyah and the Ministry of Education, is a program through which students from over 40 countries around the world including the USA, Canada, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and many other countries worldwide, come to Israel without their families, to complete their education and hopefully make Aliyah and join the IDF afterward.

Since its inception in 1992, Na'aleh has brought more than 16,000 high school students to Israel through Na'aleh, out of which over 85% have graduated successfully with a full matriculation. The Na'aleh program is implemented at over 20 schools across Israel, including three WIZO schools. The project offers an answer to the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe and gives these students a first step toward a successful future in Israeli society or back in their respective home countries.

The four students, Dennis Koznin, Lev Pavlov, Vasilisa Mohov and Dimitry Baskakov, are students of the communications study track at WIZO Nahalal Youth Village who have lived for the past four years since their immigration, at the village's dormitories.

"Every year, the students create a final project film on which they are graded," explains Chen Shelach, coordinator of the school's communications study track. "The best films from each school are sent to various competitions in Israel and around the world. At WIZO Nahalal, eight groups of communications students prepared a final film. In the middle of this academic year I read this group's script and understood that it was something special and unusual. It's more complex, philosophical and deep, without a heavy narrative. It causes viewers to think."

The film, "Hizalon," a word-play on the Hebrew word for snail ("hilazon") was filmed around the youth village and follows the lives of the four student protagonists and the struggle of immigrating to Israel, homesickness, social lives, building identities, planning their futures. The film even takes a look at their previous homes in Russia and Belarus.

Koznin filled the role of director, Pavlov was the cameraman, Mohov produced and Baskakov edited the film. For approximately half a year they worked as a team and after filming many hours' worth of rough material, succeeded in editing the film down to a final length of 15 minutes.

"We wanted to make a film about ourselves, that wouldn't be boring," explained Mohov. "Dennis is very creative and the idea for the film was his. In order to tell our story we created a fictitious character that could observe us from the sidelines. Our idea in the film was not to complain about the difficulties of immigrating to Israel but to have people see us as every other child in Israel. I don't want people to see me as a 'Russian.'"

Not only Shelach their coordinator thought that the group's film was something out of the ordinary. "Hizalon" was chosen as the outstanding documentary film out of 120 films of the category competing from across the country. A few weeks ago its four creators received the award at the prestigious Jerusalem International Film Festival.

"I was shocked that we won," admitted Koznin, the director. "I thought there was a chance. I really wanted it to happen. Ever since we started making the film, we wanted to win; it was one of our goals. I'm happy we succeeded."

Rivka Lazovsky, Chairperson of World WIZO, added, "WIZO has always been and continues to be at the forefront of providing Israeli youth, whether native born or newly immigrated, solid foundations for a successful and productive future. The impressive, award-winning students from WIZO Nahalal's communications study track are proof of this. I am so proud of them, and of all the students of our many unique study tracks in schools across the country: hair styling, police studies, firefighting and many more. I look forward to seeing more outstanding work from WIZO's empowered youth."