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The lives of women in Israel and Europe go under the lens at the fourth annual International Women's Film Festival, a four-day event kicking off Wednesday in Rehovot. The festival, with screenings of more than 60 movies at the city's Cinema Chen and Weizmann Institute of Science, gets underway with the Israeli premiere of Waitress, the final film by Adrienne Shelly, the writer, actress and director murdered last November in her Manhattan office.
The film, with TV star Keri Russell as an unhappily pregnant restaurant worker, differs from nearly all the other festival offerings in its setting - a small, unnamed town in the American South. The majority of the festival's films arrive with an Israeli or European pedigree, though one of the festival's guests, documentary maker Sarah Moon Howe, spends part of her film in the US as well.
Moon Howe's project, the suggestively titled Don't Tell My Mother, fits nicely with the festival's theme for the year - passion and its depictions on screen. Moon Howe's 26-minute production, completed in 2003, follows the director's own career as an exotic dancer, as well as her reasons for quitting the profession. Like a number of other films at the festival, Moon Howe's project analyzes not only the female search for male approval, but how that search can affect relationships between women.
Taking a lighter look at similar issues is Sex is Comedy, a 2002 French production screened at Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival. The film stars Anne Parillaud (who worked with Israeli director Amos Gitai in 2004's Promised Land) as a perfectionist director trying to stage a sex scene between male and female stars who can barely conceal their loathing of one another. Though intended as farce, the film asks an interesting question about the function of the sex scene: when not staged purely for comic or voyeuristic appeal, what narrative purpose can such scenes serve?
Joining Moon Howe among the festival's foreign guests is Polish filmmaker Dorota Kedzierzawska, an internationally acclaimed writer and director known for her lyrical, minimalist screenplays. Three of Kedzierzawska's feature-length movies will be screened in Rehovot, as will two of her short films.
Only a small minority of the Israeli offerings are feature-length efforts; best known among the Israeli submissions is Three Mothers, Dina Zvi-Riklis' warmly received 2006 drama about female triplets born to Jewish parents in Egypt and brought to Israel as teenagers. Nominated for a slew of prizes at last year's Ophirs (the Israeli version of the Academy Awards), the film took two prizes at the 2006 Jerusalem Film Festival, and serves as an acting workshop by performers like Gila Almagor, Tali Sharon and newcomer Miri Mesika.
Israel's other offerings include documentaries looking at a variety of contemporary issues, among them adoption (I, the forementioned Infant), the impact of IDF service on women (Seeds of Summer) and the modern Orthodox singles scene in Jerusalem (The Modern Ones). Three Times Divorced examines the aftermath of a break-up between a Gaza Palestinian and her Israeli Arab husband, while the three-minute Dana Lynn follows a young woman's decision to have her breasts enlarged.
Of renewed interest since May's Cannes Film Festival is The Womb, an animated 2000 adaptation of a short story by Etgar Keret. The Israeli writer and filmmaker shared the Golden Camera prize at this year's French festival with his wife, who wrote and co-directed the Cannes audience favorite Jellyfish.
Awards for best film and documentary will be handed out at the conclusion of the festival, as will "promising director" and "director promotion" prizes. Films screened will be accompanied by subtitles in Hebrew and English.
A full program and information about purchasing tickets can be found at the festival Web site, www.iwff.net.
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