Same dates, different city. The sixth annual Cinema South Festival will kick off Saturday night almost as organizers had planned - almost - with films and guests from around the world and a special competition devoted to works by graduates of Sapir Academic College, a center for film and TV studies based in Sderot, the festival's host city for the last five years.
The difference this year - and it's a notable one - is that the festival itself will no longer be taking place in Sderot, where continuing rocket fire from Gaza convinced organizers to change Cinema South's 2007 location earlier this week.
Thanks to some late-stage juggling on the part of the festival's new hosts, Cinema South will take place for the first time this year in Netivot, where the southern development town's Conservatory and Media Center will screen an array of Israeli and international films.
A growing cinematic presence since it began in 2002, Cinema South opens this year with the world premiere screening of Hasodot (The Secrets), the latest effort by veteran filmmaker Avi Nesher, the director responsible for Israeli classics including Halahaka (The Troupe) and Dizengoff 99.
After debuting at Cinema South, Nesher's previous movie, 2004's Sof Ha'Olam Smola (Turn Left at the End of the World), went on to become one of the most commercially successful movies in Israeli history, and Nesher has maintained close ties with the festival in the intervening years,
participating in workshops and discussion sessions at last year's event as well.
Hasodot, about two young women at a Safed religious school for Haredi women, features stars including Ania Bukstein, Alma Zak and Adir Miller, as well as celebrated French actress Fanny Ardant, one of the international guests slated to appear at the festival.
Another European visitor at this year's Cinema South is Oscar-winning filmmaker Marcel Ophuls, whose 1969 documentary The Sorrow and the Pity is widely credited with helping to shatter French claims that ordinary citizens hadn't collaborated in the deportation of the country's Jews during the Holocaust. That film will be screened as part of a retrospective of Ophuls' films, with others including The Troubles We've Seen, about journalists covering the outbreak of war following the ethnic splintering of Yugoslavia, and Hotel Terminus, the 1988 best documentary Oscar winner about Klaus Barbie, the French Gestapo chief who became known during the war as "the Butcher of Lyons."
Related themes will be explored in a new addition to the Cinema South program, which for this first time this year will show selections from the Human Rights Watch Film Festivals of London and New York. Documentaries in this section of the festival look at topics such as the fight between residents of a small Burmese village and American oil companies, and the struggles of photojournalists in Pinochet's Chile.
Two additional documentaries on the festival schedule, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and The Road to Guantanamo, have generated considerable controversy overseas for their look at American human rights abuses since September 11, and are sure to draw attention during their screenings in Netivot.
A final point of interest - and certainly a bittersweet one - will be the festival's planned tribute to its host city of the last five years. Hahalutzim (The Pioneers), a documentary screening on the last of the festival's six days, examines Sderot's history from its founding as a "transit camp" for immigrants from the Arab world, and includes archival footage and contemporary interviews with both the town's first residents and with succeeding generations. Ofef Gaza (Gaza Periphery), a three-part documentary series, takes a look at life in the area, and at Sapir College, since Israel withdrew Jewish residents and its military forces from the Gaza Strip in August 2005.
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