Filmmaker Laura Bialis would be the first to admit she didn’t know what she was in for when she chose to make a film about the music scene in Sderot, a small city in Israel that, due to its location, has been the target of thousands of homemade Palestinian rocket attacks. The “red zone” of the film’s title refers to the fact that in Sderot, aerial bombardment can occur at any time, and citizens have just 15 seconds in which to take shelter after the siren sounds. What Bialis discovered, and what Rock in the Red Zone explores and celebrates, is that once they have taken shelter, many of the residents of Sderot use the city’s underground bunkers as rehearsal and recording studios, rocking out down below as the rockets explode above them.
Before the bombing began, Sderot already had a burgeoning music scene thanks to the many refugees from North Africa and Ethiopia who have settled there. Like Memphis or New Orleans in the United States, Sderot has long been known within Israel as a place with its own distinctive sound. This blend of modern rock with Middle Eastern tuning and North African drums is a dominant influence on virtually all of contemporary Israeli rock.
The film has been a labor of love in more than one way. It took seven years to complete, and part of the reason for that is that the filmmaker had to rethink the project dramatically when she fell in love with one of her main characters. Bialis, who graduated from San Marcos High School along with Stanford and USC film school, is looking forward to sharing her story with an audience in one of her hometowns. Although Rock in the Red Zone reveals a lot about life in contemporary Israel, it also demonstrates something universal, which is that, in Bialis’s words, “good music comes from hard places.”
Rock in the Red Zone screens Saturday, January 23, at 7:30 p.m. at Marjorie Luke Theatre. Bialis will answer questions, and Avi Vaknin will play live. For tickets and information, visit rockredzonesb.brownpapertickets.com or call (800) 838-3006.