Exodus 91 [NYJFF 2023]

In partnership with The Jewish Museum, The New York Jewish Film Festival has returned to Lincoln Center for its 32nd year. Taking place January 12 – 23, 2023, this edition of the festival presents 21 features from around the world that explore the Jewish experience. TV and City is attending and will be covering several NYJFF titles.

By Elazar Abrahams

Director Micah Smith has crafted something very unique with his film Exodus 91. Exploring Operation Solomon, the 1991 mission to extract almost 15,000 Ethiopian Jews and bring them to Israel, the movie uses a blend of documentary interviews and dramatic reenactments to bring the story to life and explore aspects of the historical period often left untouched.

While those familiar with Operation Solomon remember the airlifts and action packed aspects of the tale, Exodus 91 focuses on the political complexities of the mission. Viewers get to hear from diplomats involved in the negotiation process with the famine and war plagued Ethiopia and then watch actors that bear an uncanny resemblance to their younger selves perform scenes. The difficulties for both parties don’t stop when they win the release of the Ethiopian Jews. The immigrants must now go through their new home’s bureaucracy, which leads to many hiccups.

Perhaps boldly, the film also spends some time casting doubt on the purpose of the operation. Was it for the altruistic reasons we’ve come to believe? As the situation on the ground escalates, some of the doc’s subjects posit that Israel needed good publicity and this was just the stunt to shift the global perception of the troubled country. In a powerful fourth wall break, one of the reenactment portion’s young Ethiopian actors leaves set after her work day on Exodus 91 to go participate in an anti-racism protest in the streets of Israel. Decades later, the Ethiopian community is still struggling to be seen as equals in the eyes of Israeli society.

Hearing first hand from those involved lends itself to more than a few moving moments. In one heartbreaking account, a young Ethiopian girl asks a diplomat about the temple in Jerusalem,, which of course has been destroyed since 70 CE. Her community has been so cut off from the world that they have no idea what sort of future awaits them in Israel.

‘Exodus 91’ is playing at the New York Jewish Film Festival on January 22. Find tickets and more information HERE.