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The nominations for the Ophir Awards (the prizes of the Israeli Academy for Film and Television) were announced Sunday. The awards will be presented on September 20 in Tel Aviv.
The announcement of the nominees didn't generate much excitement this year, since only 10 movies were made, so just about every one was nominated for multiple awards. In 2004, the strongest year in the history of Israeli film, 23 features were released, and there was real controversy over which movies were passed over.
Why the sudden decline after the renaissance of 2004, which saw Israeli features win 20 international awards and sell 1,250,000 tickets domestically (more than double the number sold in 2003)? Danny Verete, director of last year's Metallic Blues, who works with several of Israel's film funds, said the low number this year was due to the fact that about two years ago the government began holding up the money it had promised to filmmakers as part of the Cinema Law, or Hok Ha Kolnoa. This law was passed in 2001, and significantly increased the contribution government agencies made to film production. Then, in 2003-2004, there was a move to rescind the law, and while the debate went on, filmmakers didn't get the promised funding. Ultimately, the law was upheld, and the fact that Israeli films enjoyed unprecedented success abroad and at home in 2004 undoubtedly played a part. Slowly, the funding is being distributed again.
Out of the 10 pictures that did get made, the Academy chose the following nominees for Best Picture: What A Wonderful Place, which won the Wolgin Award at this year's Jerusalem Film Festival, about alienated Israelis and the mistreatment of foreign workers; Comrade, a boy's coming-of-age story; Appearances, the story a young woman coping with the suicide of her childhood friend ; Joy, about a woman who becomes involved with a reality TV show; and Close To Home, the story of two unhappy female soldiers patrolling the streets of Jerusalem.
The Best Director nominees are: Eyal Halfon, Wonderful Place; Haim Bouzaglo, Janem Janem, another look at alienated Israelis and mistreated foreigners; Mati Harari and Arik Lubitzki, The Last Suspect, a crime drama; Danny Sirkin, Appearances ; Julie Schelz, Joy, and Vidi Bilu and Dalia Hager, Close To Home.
The Best Actor nominees are Makram J. Khoury, Free Zone ; Uri Gavriel, Wonderful Place ; Adam Hirsh, Something Comrade; Danny Rothenberg, Janem Janem; Shmil Ben Ari, The Last Suspect; and Tal Friedman, Joy.
The Best Actress Nominees are Hanna Laslo, Free Zone; Evelyn Kaplun, Wonderful Place; Tinkerbell, Comrade; Tali Sharon, Appearances; and Sigalit Fuchs, Joy.
As usual, director Amos Gitai, who is far more beloved abroad than at home, was not nominated for Best Director and his movie, Free Zone, was not nominated for Best Picture, although its stars, Hanna Laslo (the first Israeli actress to win the Best Actress Award at Cannes), Makram Khoury and Hiam Abbass (who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress) received nominations.
Critics at the Jerusalem Film Festival were divided over Haim Bouzaglo's Janem Janem, and some feel it should have received a nomination for Best Picture. However, Bouzaglo was nominated for Best Director and the film got several other nominations, although not for its soundtrack, which featured a lively mix of international music, and was one of the film's strongest features.
Although there were only 10 feature films made, 59 documentaries were eligible this year, and the nominated ones are: Gold Blue - Dirty Work, directed by Tali Shemesh, a look at a failing factory; Sentenced To Marriage, Anat Zaria's expose of the inner workings of the divorce courts, which won the Wolgin Award at last year's Jerusalem Film Festival; Grandfather Siberia by Ido Har, the story of a woman whose father, a Soviet war hero, disappeared in Siberia; 18 Kilos of Love, by Danny Menkin, a look at a severely disabled artist and animator; and Say Amen by David Deri, about a young man who breaks away from his religious family and its values.
Lifetime Achievement Awards will go to the late composer Ehud Manor and one of the first actors' agents and managers in Israel, Livia Hon.