When Paula Kweskin Weiss brings together her pairs – directors of films devoted to women’s rights – for the very first 49% Festival in Jerusalem, she will welcome them to the holy city, also her adopted city.
The Festival, which will take place on Wednesday March 6 and Thursday March 7 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque – just before International Women’s Day on March 8 – will be the flagship event of 49%, a new organization founded by Kweskin Weiss whose mission is to develop, advance and promote women’s stories through film and the media.
The organization takes its name from the percentage of women in the world’s population. The Jerusalem Festival, supported by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation’s Field Events program, is its inaugural event.
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A series of films will be screened, including one on the story of a Muslim woman seeking help in Israel and others on female genital mutilation in Egypt, child marriage in Pakistan and the glass ceiling in Israel.
“Many people think that women are represented in a higher proportion in the population than men,” comments Kweskin Weiss. “The fact that we are 49% is important in itself. But the name of the organization is also a call to action ”.
Kweskin Weiss, 35, a lawyer and documentary maker, divides her time between Israel and Greensboro, North Carolina, where she grew up and studied law. She also holds a master’s degree in human rights and international law from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
She discovered the issue of human rights when she was a teenager, hearing a Chinese dissident talk about how an individual’s hazardous birthplace could affect their entire life.
“He was born a prisoner in China and we were born free in the United States,” she explains.
She began a career as a human rights lawyer, writing summaries for the United Nations, but felt like she was getting nowhere and then discovered documentary filmmaking.
Kweskin Weiss’ very first film, “Honor Diaries,” in 2014, analyzed honor-based violence around the world and opened the doors to women’s rights organizations around the world. The film was popular, won awards, and was distributed on Netflix and Amazon. It was also censored in a few countries, an experience that marked her.
She then directed “Faithkeepers,” which told the personal stories of Christians and members of persecuted minority communities in the Middle East.
Then Kweskin Weiss launched the Censored Women Film Festival – which brings together banned female directors and which has been held in Berlin, New York, Los Angeles and other major cities. She quickly realized that there were more important questions that arose and she tried to go beyond the censorship again.
And this more global project took the form of the 49% organization, which aims to promote women’s rights via cinema and the media.
For the festival, she called on directors and activists from Egypt, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Canada and the United States as well as Israel – including an activist from the Bedouin community and another coming from the ultra-Orthodox world.
“I can’t wait for us to come together and tackle these issues collectively,” she explains.
The event will be launched at WeWork Jerusalem, festival partner and “Jerusalem’s Oasis of Tolerance,” says Kweskin Weiss. Beyond the two-day screening, 49% of activists and directors will meet female executives in Tel Aviv as well as entrepreneurs and activists working in the social sector, with a day of strategic planning planned.
For many of the participants, this will be their first visit to Israel, notes Kweskin Weiss.
“These women know the opposition they are going to meet but they don’t care,” she said.
Further proof of the strength that women can bring to the problems of the world, adds the director.
“I’ve learned in my work that there really is an opportunity to transcend politics and religion when women come together to look at women’s rights,” she says.
“Politicians – men – tell us over and over that we have to identify ourselves first by our ethnic origin, then by our religious origin and our citizenship, but this is not true: it is not necessary. We share much more than what separates us and that is the objective of this project, ”she adds.
A list of screenings and debates is available on the Jerusalem Cinematheque website.