The Jerusalem Festival has been an annual event for 23 years. This year's festival, which kicked off yesterday at the Sultan's Pool with the screening of Oded Davidoff's Someone to Run With, after the novel by David Grossman with the same name, is the largest ever, and will screen nearly 300 films. The festival comprises different categories, including Documentary, Spirit of Freedom, Panorama, French cinema Voila!, Canadian Spotlight, Professional Events, the Jewish Experience, Intersection, New Directors, and Cinema Jerusalem. The festival will award, among others, the Anat Prichi and the Wolgin awards. Says Yigal Molad-Hayo, deputy director of the Cinematheque, "Although this is the largest festival ever, it will last 10 days, as always. We are expanding the trend we began a few years ago, and films and events related to the festival will also take place in venues outside the Cinematheque. "These will include the Sultan's Pool, the Old Train Station, which will be turned into an open air cinema, the Smadar, Khan and Jerusalem theaters, and the Begin Heritage Center, which is so close to the Cinematheque that it is becoming an integral part of the festival." Molad-Hayu adds that the Van Leer Institute will also host some of the events, including panel discussions on the preservation of Israel's audio-visual heritage. "This is a new venue for us and will host Ra'anan Dinur, currently the director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, formerly the director-general of the municipality, and a great friend of the festival; Culture Minister Ophir Paz-Pines, and special guest poet Haim Guri, whose trilogy of the Shoah is a fine example of what can and should be done with important material that must be preserved. This gathering's main goal is to promote the passing of a Knesset bill regarding the preservation of our audio-visual heritage." "Pitching" is another new festival project. Pitching, Molad-Hayu explains, creates a special encounter between local filmmakers and representatives of the movie and television industry from all over the world, and especially from Europe. The local talent will have the opportunity to present their works in order to find co-producers and funding. The Cinematheque will award some NIS 2.5 million in prize money this year, Molad-Hayu adds. "Our main focus will be on Israeli feature films. We had a tremendous array to chose from: we chose 14 documentary films out of 120 proposals, all of a very high level. In the framework of the Jewish experience, we have added a new award, a tribute to Lia van Leer donated by the Constantiner Family Fund, to the Yad Vashem Chairman's award. And of course, we will continue to award the Anat Prichi Prize for TV drama. A quick glance at some of the films and their themes: Two films, one from Austria (The Bread We Eat, by Nikolaus Geyrhalter) and the other from Taiwan (The Last Rice Farmers, by Chueng Yi Tseng), deal with the different aspects of preparing the food we eat: bread and other products. Taken together, the films explore the traditional methods of food production, which are fading away, and the new forms of manufacture and the international concerns that they raise. The films show how we, the consumers, are caught in the middle. One film explores the life of Maria Bethania, (Maria Bethania: Music is Perfume, by Georges Gachot), an ode to the performer often called the "Soul of Brazil." The House of Nadia (La maison de Nadia, by Richard Dembo) tells the story of children of the Holocaust, who were gathered in different places in Western Europe (in this particular case, in France) and the painful encounters between them. Ten films will compete for the prestigious Wolgin Award, among them a film dealing with pashkavilim (Yoel, Israel and Pashkavilim), those wall-pasted posters that serve as a major means of communication in haredi society. Another film dealing with our local life is Can You Hear Me? Israeli and Palestinian Women Fighting For Peace by Lily Rivlin, which focuses on the role of women peace activists from both sides: women who, even when the level of violence and terror reached its most frightening peaks, did not abandon their principles. Stories from the Middle East, directed by Jonathan Ben-Efrat, tells the story of different locations and realities here: Gaza, Beduin in the Negev, the refugee camp of Dehaishe and an abandoned shopping mall in Tel Aviv turned into a home for hundreds of illegal Palestinian workers. Among the Israeli films, one is drawing particular attention. Moshe Alafi's Naf, a Street Child retraces the story of a young boy who had to flee his home and family and found himself quickly becoming the uncrowned leader of dozens of girls and boys in his situation - those who had been thrown out of their homes or who had run away from violent parents. They had been abandoned by their environment, received little or nothing from the social services and fought to make it in the cold and the heat. Naf, a charismatic youngster, managed to create close contacts with several members of the city council. Though he attended a special meeting dedicated to his problem, he has still not found a solution. Alafi followed him for almost two years and the film is a poignant and sometimes almost unbearable account of the lives of hundreds of children like Naf. Alafi says that although his film was not nominated for the Wolgin Award, it was included in the festival due to a personal request by Lia van Leer. The festival will host some 200 guests, some of them well-known to the public, including Roman Polanski, Debra Winger and Armenian director Atom Agoyan, who is a close friend of van Leer. Kim Cattrall of Sex and the City fame was expected at the festival, but has canceled her visit. Also among the guests are numerous other directors, producers, and filmmakers who are, says Molad-Hayu, less well-known to the Israel public yet very influential in their field. Israeli film director Eli Cohen will also receive a Life Achievement Award. For the sixth year in a row, the Orange Partner cellular telephone company will provide major sponsorship, exceeding NIS 2 million. Other supporters include the Ostrovsky Fund, with special support from Vivian Ostrovsky, including her special program for experimental cinema; the Van Leer Foundation; the Jerusalem Foundation; the Culture Ministry, and the Jerusalem Municipality, which has contributed some NIS 1 million to the festival. In past years, the special gala dinner for the guests of the festival was hosted by the Mayor of Jerusalem. This year, it will be hosted by prime minister and former mayor Ehud Olmert, at the official prime minister's residence. Immediately after the festival, the Cinematheque will move to the International Convention Center, until the expansion and renovation of the existing site is completed. The work is expected to continue for some two years.

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