More than 70,000 people are expected to inundate the capital’s selected cinemas over the next 10 days for the 27th annual Jerusalem Film Festival and, despite certain financial issues and cancellations from some high-profile guests, this year’s event looks set to keep film lovers happy.

“We started our financial crisis more than two years ago, but we have managed to continue our work, and this year’s festival has many new events,” Cinematheque associate director Yigal Molad Hayo told In Jerusalem earlier this week.

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Indeed, even though one of its long-time funders Jack Wolgin, who has supported a key competition at the festival for the past 21 years, passed away last January and top sponsors such as Orange have scaled back their support, the 10-day festival will screen some 200 feature films, documentaries and short movies, including 50 debuts.

It will also include two new competitions for upand- coming local filmmakers, thanks to an additional $50,000 grant (to continue for the next five years) from long-time Cinematheque funder the Van Leer Group Foundation and a further $50,000 from the Jewish Italian Haggiag family.

In addition, an NIS 300,000 grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation will go toward funding three free film screenings in Independence Park, each one featuring a local standup comedian and an after-party at a downtown nightclub.

“Last year’s festival attracted more than 70,000 people, and we hope to have the same number or more this year,” says Molad Hayo. “We hope that this festival will reach more than just the usual film lovers but will also give residents of Jerusalem and the wider Israeli public the chance to enjoy quality cinema.”

While the goal of the film festival is to reach as many people as possible, Molad Hayo stresses that perhaps its most important function is to strengthen Israel’s film industry with its 12 official prize categories and to increase recognition of the festival in the international community.

This has been a challenge this year, however, with the festival’s budget continuing to shrink. Molad Hayo admits that the overall budget has dipped to below NIS 5 million this year, compared to more than NIS 6 million two years ago. Many of the 150 international guests, which include actors, directors and producers from films being screened, as well as heads of other international festivals, are paying their own way.

“Because of the financial constraints, we cannot be very generous this year,” says Molad Hayo. “Many of our visitors took the costs upon themselves, but it is impressive that they still want to come. It is a compliment to the festival and means we are still important.”

One film critic, who has been covering the festival for more than a decade, told IJ, “Like most other nonprofits worldwide, the Cinematheque and its festivals have been hit hard by a budget crisis. However, against all odds the organizers have managed to maintain the quality of the films, and there is an excellent line-up this year,” she said, adding, bouncing back and we will see a better situation for everyone, including the festival.”

The financial situation notwithstanding, the festival has also been beset by international political tension in the region and, according to Molad Hayo, some high-profile celebrities set to attend this year’s event backed out following Israel’s attack on a Gaza-bound flotilla on May 31.

“Meg Ryan was supposed to come; it had all been agreed on,” he said. “A day after the flotilla incident, we got an e-mail saying she was not coming. Although they claimed it was because she was too busy, it was clear to me that [the flotilla attack] probably had something to do with her cancellation.”

Others who were considering attending, says Molad Hayo, were Jewish actor Dustin Hoffman and Prince Albert of Monaco, the son of legendary screen star Grace Kelly. A tribute to Princess Grace had already been planned in the festival brochure.
A publicist for Dustin Hoffman denied that any contact had been made between the Hollywood actor and the film festival. She said clearly that her client had never planned on attending the event.
The Cinematheque was founded in Haifa more than 50 years ago by local film industry personality Lia Van Leer and her husband, Wim. After expanding and moving to Jerusalem in the early 1970s, Lia established the Jerusalem Film Festival in the 1980s. She has been a key figure in making the event a recognized success on the international film scene.

“Lia really is the backbone of the festival, although she is not involved as much anymore,” says the film critic, who preferred to remain anonymous. “She used to be the one to go to every film festival around the world and confront stars face to face, convincing them to come to Israel. There are not many other people who can do that.”

According to Molad Hayo, however, “Lia is still with us and is involved in certain issues, even though she is over 86 years old and has reduced her scope of activities.”

He concludes, “We are able to use her energy, power and ability to make this an excellent festival.”

The festival kicked off Thursday night at the Sultan’s Pool with the screening of French film La Rafle (The Precipice). The filmfest runs through July 17, with movies being shown at the Cinematheque, the Begin Heritage Center, the German Colony’s Lev Smadar, as well as selected outdoor events in Independence Park.

For further information and tickets, visit the Web site: www.jff.org.il
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