Good viewing up north

Among the many local film festivals of recent months, the Haifa International Film Festival remains one of the most artistically adventurous.

September 20, 2007 14:35
Good viewing up north

sophie marceau 224 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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The 23rd Haifa International Film Festival, which runs from September 27 to October 4 at the Haifa Cinematheque and various theaters around the city, opens with Israeli director Amos Gitai's Disengagement, a film set during the politically turbulent period of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and closes with A Mighty Heart, Michael Winterbottom's drama about the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. These two films very much reflect the character of the festival itself: They are concerned with current events, especially in the Middle East and Mediterranean region, but are carefully made and designed to entertain. Neither film shies away from star power, either. Gitai's film stars Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner (for The English Patient) Juliette Binoche, as well as French legend Jeanne Moreau, but also features a supporting cast of distinguished Israeli and Palestinian actors, including Liron Levo, Hiam Abbass, Israel Katorza, and Yussuf Abu Warda. Anyone who even occasionally reads a newspaper probably knows that Angelina Jolie, famous for her adoptions and for being the mother of Brad Pitt's child, plays Marianne Pearl, Daniel's widow, in A Mighty Heart, which is based on her memoir. There will be also be some live star power at the festival, since glamorous French actress-turned-director Sophie Marceau (she was a Bond girl in The World is Not Enough and also starred in Anna Karenina) will be on hand to promote her latest film as director, Trivial (La Disparue de Deauville). The film tells the story of a mysterious actress (Marceau) who died years ago, and how a woman claiming to be her appears in the life of a troubled cop (Christopher Lambert). Lambert, probably best known for his roles in the Mortal Kombat and Highlander series, will also attend the Haifa festival. Although the final guest list has yet to be announced, renowned Czech director Jiri Menzel will attend to accept the Award for Cinematic Excellence and Innovation. Menzel spearheaded the Czech New Wave movement in pre-1968 Czechoslovakia, and the festival will feature a retrospective of his films, starting with his first movie, Closely Watched Trains (1966), a darkly comic look at the life of a railway worker, based on a novel by Bohumil Hrabal. His latest film, I Served the King of England, also based on a novel by that author, will receive its Israeli debut at the festival. It tells the story of a Czech waiter, starting in the period between the two World Wars and goes up to the Sixties. Salim Daw, the Israeli actor/director who has appeared in films such as James' Journey to Jerusalem and The Milky Way, will be honored with an Award for Special Contribution to Israeli Cinema. Just as in the Jerusalem Film Festival, Haifa offers competitions for Israeli films in the feature, documentary, short and television categories, among others. This year, in addition to Gitai's Disengagement, there are a varied group of feature films. Lynn Roth, a director/producer who often visits Israel to teach film students as part of the Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership sponsored by the Los Angeles Federation, has directed The Little Traitor, a film based on the Amos Oz novel, The Panther in the Basement, which will take part in the Israeli competition. Starring Alfred Molina, it tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a Jewish boy and a British officer in 1947. Veteran Israeli director Isaac Zepel Yeshurun (Noa at 17) will be represented by Places, about a New York therapist whose life is changed when he meets a young woman. Ali Nasser (In the Ninth Month) is back at the festival with Waiting for Salah-Adin, while David Dazanashvilli examines the underlife of South Tel Aviv in Maftir. Author (Song of the Siren) and radio personality (Milah Ahrona) Irit Linur wrote and directed Mishmoret, a television series about a much-married father and his troubled relationships with his children, two episodes of which will be screened at the festival. Yulie Cohen Gerstel, who produced and directed the highly acclaimed documentary, My Terrorist, has made a new film, My Brother, about her attempt to reconnect with her brother, who embraced an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle. In We Were Like Dreamers, Yehudit Damari reflects on what it was like for her family and her when they had to leave their home in the Gaza Strip. The festival features more special programs than there is room to mention in a single article, but several interesting ones are devoted to Israeli films. There will be a screening of Sigalit Banai's film, The Pioneers, a look at Sderot's history and current reality, which will be followed by a performance by Micha Bitton, lead singer of Tanara. Another program will be devoted to a celebration of the 18th anniversary of the Ma'ale Film School, a Jerusalem school for religious students. Five films by Ma'ale students will be shown. As in previous years, the festival will feature a Palestinian Film Day, featuring new films, mostly shorts, by Palestinian filmmakers, as well as panel discussions on developments in this industry. The Gala Section has a selection of new high-profile films, mostly from Hollywood and Europe. This year they include Kenneth Branagh's remake of Sleuth, again starring Michael Caine, this time playing the role that Laurence Olivier played in the Seventies version, and Jude Law, in Caine's old role; The Hunting Party, starring Richard Gere as a disgraced journalist trying to track down a war criminal; and The Savages, a film about a brother (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and sister (Laura Linney), who reluctantly begin to care for their estranged father. The Golden Anchor Competition, which is open to films from countries on the Mediterranean, features a movie from Algeria (a French co-production), Bled Number One Back Home, a feature film set in the hometown of director Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche, who plays one of the characters, in a story of how Islamic fundamentalism has changed society. It won the Youth Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Actress Sandrine Bonnaire's Her Name is Sabine, her first film, won the Director's Fortnight FIPRESCI Award at Cannes and is a documentary about her autistic sister. The Golden Anchor competition also includes films from Turkey, Spain, Italy, France and Croatia and is consistently one of the most interesting categories at Haifa. There is now a FIPRESCI, or Foreign Press Association Award, at Haifa, for films by new directors. Other categories at the festival include films from the Boston-Haifa Partnership, recent films from the former Soviet Union, New German Cinema, Doc Talk (a documentary section) and a rich Panorama section of films from all over the world. Israelis have had so many arts festivals to choose among in recent months, but the Haifa International Film Festival remains one of the most artistically adventurous and interesting. Check the festival Website at for the final guest list, as well as schedule and ticket information.

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