The Haifa International Film Festival will celebrate its 28th year when it opens on September 29 at the Haifa Cinematheque and other venues around the city. It runs through October 8. It will quickly be followed by two other interesting film festivals in October – the ICON TLV Festival of science fiction and fantasy films starting in Tel Aviv on October 1; and the Jewish Eye Film Festival, which opens in Ashkelon on October 16.

For some at the Haifa film festival, the main point is the hotly anticipated Israeli film competition, in which films such as Fill the Void, which many predict will win the Ophir Best Picture Award and has already won the Best Actress Award at the Venice International Film Festival for its star, Hadas Yaron, will square off against many other eagerly awaited films.

In addition, there are programs of Israeli documentaries, Israeli shorts, Israeli animated films and Israeli television dramas.

But it is very much an international festival, and the opening night film is Ben Affleck’s very topical Argo, which stars Affleck, along with Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad and John Goodman in a thriller about an attempt to rescue the American hostages kidnapped from the US Embassy at Tehran in 1979.

The closing night film will be Daniel Barnz’s Won’t Back Down. An equally topical and newsy film, it stars Viola Davis (The Help), Holly Hunter and Maggie Gyllenhaal in a story of mothers who bond together to reform their children’s school system, and the bureaucrats who stand in their way.

Other gala films include Jake Schreier’s Robot and Frank, a combination sci-fi, buddy movie and romance about a retired thief (Frank Langella), who falls in love with a librarian and starts planning one last heist after his children buy a robot to look after him; Fred Schepisi’s The Eye of the Storm, a drama about adult children (Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis) who come to the bedside of their dying mother (Charlotte Rampling) in Australia; Christian Petzoid’s Barbara stars Nina Hoss as a doctor in East Germany in 1980 whose life changes in confusing ways after she applies to emigrate; and Nick Love’s The Sweeney, a gritty crime drama about an elite police unit in London that stars Damian Lewis (Homeland) and Ray Winstone.

The main international category at Haifa is the Golden Anchor Competition, for the best film from a Mediterranean country. These films tend to feature realistic portraits of daily life in the countries in which they are set. Robert Guediguian’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro, for example, is set in the Marseille neighborhood where all his films have taken place and tells the story of a union representative who has just been fired and is robbed before heading off on the vacation of a lifetime. Another French film, Lucas Belvaux’s 38 Witnesses, is about a woman who tries to uncover the secret about a crime that has taken place in her neighborhood. The Turkish film Somewhere in Between, directed by Taxes Austauglo, which won great praise at the Venice Film Festival, tells the story of two teens who work at a gas station and how they gradually lose their innocence.

There are a number of other programs in the festival that will be of great interest to cinema lovers. The Fringidaire program features the best movies from out of the mainstream, including Veronica Kedar’s Joe + Belle, a film about two mismatched Tel Aviv lesbians that won an honorary Ophir Award. There are also live musical performances in this part of the festival.

East of the West showcases the best films from Russia and other countries in Eastern Europe, while New Asian Cinema features emerging talent, along with new films by Chen Kaige and Takashi Miike. Haifa Classics is a program of timeless films from different genres and eras, including David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia.

Other programs include Filmmakers of Tomorrow, Independent Cinema, Jewish Identity and Animation.

Greek pianist and composer Eleni Karaindrou will perform her first concert in Israel as part of the festival events.

Many films at the festival sell out in advance, so visit the festival website at http://www.haifaff.co.il/eng for schedule information and to buy tickets.

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