At 29 years old, the Jerusalem Film Festival has certainly come of age. It runs from July 5-14 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque (and other theaters around the city). This year, Jerusalem Cinematheque founder and festival director Lia van Leer will be joined by Alesia Weston, the new executive director of the Jerusalem Film Center, the body that oversees the festival and the Cinematheque. Formerly of the Sundance Institute, Weston will bring a new outlook to the festival.
The film festival will begin with an open-air screening at the Sultan’s Pool on the night of July 5 of Woody Allen’s latest European romp, To Rome with Love. It features the Wood-man acting again, alongside Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg and Judy David.
This year, more than ever, the pre-festival buzz has been about the Israeli features that will compete for the Haggiag Awards for Israeli Cinema.
There will be nine films in competition. Two well-known directors will be showing their latest films. Dover Kosashvili, who won the competition in 2001 with A Late Wedding and whose last film, Infiltration, was shown in 2010, has just made a film called Single Plus, which stars Yael Toker as a woman in her 30s who is ruthlessly pressured by her parents to marry. Both comic and dramatic, it features a rape scene that has generated controversy.
Director Benny Torati, who made the well-received Desperado Square a decade ago, returns with The Ballad of the Weeping Spring. It stars veteran character actor Uri Gavriel and musician Dudu Tassa as two bandmates whose life was changed by a tragedy 20 years before.
Other films in competition include a look at the conflicts a haredi bride-to-be faces in Rama Burshtein’s Fill the Void. The political situation is the backdrop for Yariv Horowitz’s Rock the Casbah, about an Israeli soldier and his contact with a Palestinian family after his fellow soldier is killed.
The most competitive category is usually Israeli documentaries, and this year 10 are competing for the Van Leer Award. They include Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s Five Broken Cameras, in which a Palestinian cameraman documents the changes the separation barrier has brought to his village.
Many of the films in the In the Spirit of Freedom category, in memory of Van Leer’s late husband, Wim, examine the fate of immigrant workers in different parts of the world.
This year, these films are especially topical, including Tony Gatlif’s acclaimed Indignados.
Among the many special events at the festival will be the announcement of the winners of the Jerusalem International Film Lab, an initiative of the Sam Spiegel School of Film and Television, Jerusalem, on July 6. Twelve directors at the beginning of their careers – six from abroad and six Israelis – who have been mentored by an international team of screenwriting experts will present their projects to a jury of international experts, and the winners will receive cash awards totaling $100,000.
There will be a tribute to Michelangelo Antonioni, as well as a program of classics including Chariots of Fire and the Yiddish film Kol Nidre.
One Iranian film, Morteza Farshbaf’s Mourning, about a child who loses his parents in a car crash but isn’t told of their deaths right away, will be shown in a new section called Friends and Neighbors. It also features Omar Shargawi and Karim el Hakim’s 1/2 Revolution, about the turbulent situation in Egypt, as well as films from Turkey, Morocco and Algeria.
The Panorama and New Directors programs include films from every part of the globe, including Sundance Best Film Winner Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin, which is a surreal drama about a child in the Louisiana Delta.
The Jewish Experience is an especially strong category this year.
German cabaret artist Max Raabe will return to Israel to present the film Max Raabe in Israel, a film of a concert he did here in 2010.
Lorraine Levy’s Le Fils de l’Autre (The Other Son) looks at two young men who discover they were switched at birth in the hospital in the chaos of the First Gulf War in Israel. One went to live a comfortable middle-class Jewish existence in Tel Aviv, while the other has grown up on the West Bank. It’s a story that will certainly generate controversy.
The Last Flight of Petr Ginz is about a child prodigy in art and writing who died in the Holocaust.
For more information and to order tickets, go to the festival website at http://www.jff.org.il/.