There are two main seasons for film festivals around the world, spring and fall, and this fall, Israeli movies will be front and center at some of the most important international festivals.
The Toronto International Film Festival, which runs this year from September 5-15, is one of the largest in the world, with a mixture of high-profile Hollywood premieres (and the stars that accompany them) and quality independent cinema. There will be two Israeli films in the World Contemporary Cinema program, Avi Nesher’s The Wonders and Yossi Madmony’s A Place in Heaven. The Wonders is a neo-noir, genre-bending and very funny mystery set in Jerusalem, about a slacker who gets mixed up with a glamorous woman, a tough detective and a cult leader held captive in Jerusalem. It stars Adir Miller, Ori Hizkiya and Yuval Scharf. The Wonders opened early in the summer and is still playing throughout Israel.
A Place in Heaven stars Alon Aboutboul and Rotem Zisman-Cohen in a story set in the Forties about the relationship between a tough army officer and a devout Holocaust survivor.
In addition, The Wonders will be screened as part of the Contemporary World Speakers program, in which there will be post-screening discussions with the directors led by experts. Ron Levi, the director of the Master of Global Affairs program at the Munk School at the University of Toronto, is an expert on global justice and human rights and will lead the Q&A following the film.
Nesher has also been invited to participate in Toronto Film Laboratory at the festival, a program in which promising young artists are invited to meet established filmmakers. Along with Nesher, the directors participating this year will be Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air), Tom Tykwer (Cloud Atlas, Run Lola Run) and Alfonso Cuaron (Y Yo Mama Tambien, Children of Men).
Yuval Adler’s Bethlehem, the story of an Israeli soldier who befriends his Palestinian informant, will be competing in the Discovery section at Toronto. It stars Shadi Mar’l and Tsahi Halevy. Bethlehem is being screened in the prestigious Venice Days Section of at the Venice Film Festival, which runs from August 28- September 7. Bethlehem was also shown as a main selection at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, which ended on September 2. The film will open throughout Israel on September 26.
Also in Venice this year, Amos Gitai’s Ana Arabia will be shown in the main competition. Last year, Gitai’s films, which tend to be better received abroad than in Israel, were the subject of a retrospective. Ana Arabia is an unusual film, in that it was shot in a single take. It stars Yuval Scharf, Yussef Abu Warda and Sarah Adler. Set in a remote area, it tells the story of several misfits who are drawn together by their pain.
Over the years, a number of Gitai’s films have received prizes in Venice.
Venice, like Toronto, is a major festival, in which nearly 400 films are shown, and features both bigbudget and art-house fare. This year, the festival is celebrating its 70th anniversary. James Franco, Stephen Frears, Terry Gilliam and Errol Morris all have films in the main competition. Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in a science fiction drama, is the opening- night attraction.
Israeli films have won major prizes at the Venice Film Festival in recent years. Last year, Hadas Yaron won the Best Actress Award there for her performance as an ultra-Orthodox girl in Rama Burshtein’s Fill the Void, while in 2009, Samuel Maoz’s drama, Lebanon, about a tank crew during the war in the Eighties, won the top award at the festival, the Golden Lion.