An ever-expanding audience
Israeli movies are gaining popularity in the international film festival world.
Amos Gitai and Yael Abecassis Photo: Courtesy Hadas Shapira
When it comes to movies this year, Jerusalem’s loss was clearly Venice’s gain.
As Israeli films continue gaining an international audience, they are being
featured at international festivals more than ever before. This year, organizers
of the 69th Venice International Film Festival made director Rama Burshtein
choose between premiering her film Fill the Void at Venice in September in the
main competition or at the Jerusalem Film Festival in July in the Israeli
Feature Film Competition.
Burshtein’s film is a look at an ultra-
Orthodox community in Tel Aviv. What makes it very unusual is that Burshtein
herself is haredi. A graduate of one of the first classes at the Sam Spiegel
School for Film and Television, she became ultra-Orthodox after her studies. In
recent years, she became frustrated with onscreen portrayals of her community
and decided to make her own film.
The international film festival world
operates by a set of constantly changing, often counter-intuitive, rules.
Certain festivals require all entries to be world premieres, others do not. The
organizers of the Venice Film Festival had no problem when Shmuelik Maoz’s movie
Lebanon, which had been screened at the 2009 Jerusalem Film Festival, competed
at Venice. It went on to win the Golden Lion there, and Maoz was invited to meet
the Pope at the Vatican. This year, however, Burshtein given the choice between
Jerusalem and Venice, understandably chose the latter, which is one of the
oldest, largest and most prestigious film festivals in the world. The staff of
the Jerusalem Film Festival were torn between feeling miffed that they lost the
chance to present an intriguing film, and flattered that they were considered
competition by Venice. We in Israel won’t get a look at the film until early
October, when it is shown at the Haifa International Film Festival.
to this decision by the Venice organizers, Idan Hubel’s The Cut-Off Man,
starring Moshe Ivgy, was also pulled out of the lineup at the Jerusalem Film
Festival. It tells the story of a representative of the water company who cuts
off water when clients don’t pay their bills. It was shown in the Horizons
section at Venice.
The Venice Film Festival, which concluded on September
8, also featured Amir Manor’s Epilogue (also known as Hayuta and Berl), a drama
about an elderly couple, which was shown in the Venice Days section. To
make things more confusing, this film was shown at the Jerusalem Film Festival
Actress Hiam Abbass’s feature film debut, The Inheritance,
about a conflict within a Muslim family in the Galilee, was also in the Venice
Days section. Abbass is best known to audiences for her performances in two
films directed by Eran Ricklis – The Syrian Bride and Lemon Tree. She has also
starred in international films, including the Oscar-nominated The
Water, a collection of short films by Israeli and Palestinians,
produced by the Tel Aviv University School of Film and Television, opened the
Lullaby for My Father, the latest film by Amos Gitai, the
director who is far more celebrated abroad than in Israel, was shown in Venice
out of competition. The film stars Yael Abecassis.
Israeli films will be
just as prominent at the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs from
September 6-16. Fill the Void will be shown there as well, along with 10 other
Israeli director Eran Ricklis’s latest film, Zaytoun,
stars Stephen Dorff as an Israeli fighter pilot shot down over Lebanon who must
make his way back to Israel with a young Palestinian boy. Like Ricklis’s last
film, Playoff, a large part of its dialogue is in English.
Toronto festival’s Israeli films that are the most buzzed about is Out in the
Dark. Michael Mayer’s feature debut mixes political intrigue and a love story
between two men.
Yevgeny Roman’s Igor and the Cranes’ Journey, starring
Menashe Noy, tells the story of a 14-year-old boy who moves from Moscow to
Israel with his mother. His father, a bird researcher from whom Igor has been
estranged for years, stays behind in Russia. Father and son begin
following the migration of a flock of cranes via the Internet.
documentaries screened at the Toronto Film Festival include Dror Moreh’s The
Gatekeepers, which is about six former heads of the Shin Bet, and Dan Setton’s
State 194 about the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. And a novel
by David Grossman has been adapted into the film Nono, the Zig Zag Kid by
Belgian director Vincent Bal.
The next big film festival to come along,
the New York Film Festival, which runs from September 28 to October 14, includes
just 33 films in its main section, but two of them are from Israel – Fill the
Void and The Gatekeepers. When two Israeli films made the cut last year at the
New York Film Festival, I thought it was a fluke. Now that it’s happened twice,
it’s a tradition – and one that I hope will continue.