Poetry in motion... pictures

Bringing the world to our doorstep, the Jerusalem Film Festival features 200 cinematic works from 45 countries.

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July 1, 2011 16:49
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‘At 28, we’re calm and collected/Proud of our choices and the films we’ve selected,” writes Lia van Leer, the founder and president of the Jerusalem Cinematheque and the Jerusalem Film Festival in her catalogue notes for the upcoming 28th Jerusalem Film Festival, which runs from July 7-16.

This year’s festival opens the traditional way, with a screening at the Sultan’s Pool Amphitheater on Thursday, of the American sci-fi hit, Super 8, directed by J.J. Abrams, the creator of the television series Lost and Fringe.

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Super 8, which was co-produced by Steven Spielberg, is about a teen in an Ohio town in the 1970s making a Super 8 zombie movie with his friends when they witness a mysterious train crash. The opening festivities at the Sultan’s Pool feature fireworks and music.

In her poem, van Leer continues, “While we aim to please, we like to be controversial/To shun the conventional and the purely commercial.” This year, with approximately 200 films from 45 countries, the festival has definitely achieved that aim. One way it has done so is by honoring the work of Iranian director Jafar Panahi. While his may not be a household name among the general public, film buffs know him well. His films, including The Mirror and Crimson Gold, which will be shown at the festival, have won acclaim and awards around the world. Panahi certainly won’t attend the Jerusalem Film Festival this year, or any film festival for that matter.

He made statements critical of the Iranian government, particularly in the wake of the Green Revolution, and was sentenced to six years in prison. Over the next 20 years he will be prohibited from leaving Iran, directing films, writing scripts or giving interviews.

Another Iranian-born director will attend this year’s festival. Ali Samadi Ahadi, who moved to Germany in the 1990s, has made The Green Wave, an animated documentary in the vein of Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir, about the days of struggle following the Iranian elections two years ago. In light of the ongoing events of the Arab Spring, this film, and his presence at the festival, will give a personal point of view on a historical moment.

Among those recognized by Achievement Awards this year will be film historian and writer Nachman Ingber, director Eran Riklis and Hungarian director Bela Tarr, who will be presenting his most recent film, The Turin Horse, at the festival.

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While the festival is international in scope, one of the most anxiously anticipated programs is always the Israeli Feature Film Competition. In recent years, a number of notable, world-class talents have emerged from this category, including Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani (Ajami), Samuel Maoz (Lebanon) and Eran Kolirin (The Band’s Visit). This year, out of the 11 films in competition for the Haggiag Award for Best Israeli Film, most are by new directors. Several of these films have already been shown at international festivals, and Joseph Madmony’s Restoration, a family drama about the future of an antique furniture restoration shop, won the Best World Drama Screenplay Award at the Sundance Film Festival this year.

Jonathan Sagall’s Lipstikka, starring Clara Khoury as a young Palestinian woman living in London whose life is suddenly turned upside down by the arrival of a childhood friend, was shown at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. Off-White Lies by Maya Kenig looks at the relationship between an estranged father and daughter who reconnect during the Second Lebanon War. In Jorge Weller’s comedy Salsa Tel Aviv, a salsa dancer from abroad disguises herself as a nun to evade the Israeli authorities and attracts the attention of a young biologist. Sameh Zoabi’s Man without a Cell Phone is about a protest against a cell phone company in an Arab village.

Lia van Leer, the festival director herself, is the focus of one of the Israeli documentaries, Taly Goldberg’s Lia. It details her early life and how she realized, upon coming to Israel, that an Israeli cinema could not develop without the parallel development of a sophisticated audience with a passion for fine films.

This documentary will be shown out of competition, but 12 homegrown documentaries, on a diverse selection of subjects, will be competing in the Israeli Documentary section. These include Naomi Levari’s Ameer Got His Gun, about a Muslim Israeli Arab who wants to volunteer to serve in the IDF; Dani Menkin and Yonatan Nir’s Dolphin Boy, about a traumatized Israeli Arab boy who is healed through swimming with dolphins in Eilat; and Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s The Law in These Parts, about the legal/military system in the occupied territories.

Several other films are by the children of famous and admired fathers, and the offspring look at their father’s turbulent lives: Roy Zilber’s The Zilber and Me, about his musician father, Ariel; filmmaker Amos Kollek’s Chronicling a Crisis, which focuses in part on his conflicts with his father, the former mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek; and Rachel Leah Jones’s Gypsy Davy, about her father, a white boy from Alabama who became an Andalusian flamenco guitarist. Avner Faingulernt and Macabit Abrahamson’s War Matador, an allegory about Gaza, will be shown as a tribute to the Cinema South Film Festival.

In addition to films, the festival features dozens of workshops, master classes, seminars and panels on such topics as New Borders in Documentary Festivals; Israel Celebrates Bollywood (with a panel of leading producers and film industry executives from India); and The Jerusalem Pitch Point, an event in which aspiring Israeli filmmakers pitch their projects to European film and television executives. Cinema Jerusalem will host Notes on Footnote, a discussion of recent films made in the city, focusing on Joseph Cedar’s Footnote, hosted by producer/director Micha Shagrir, and Yoram Honig, director of the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund.

But for those whose primary interest in films is as a viewer, there are films of every type and every country, including short films and the best of recent animation, both Israeli and international. Director Jesse Peretz, who will be attending the festival, will present his latest film, Our Idiot Brother, about a drug dealer (Paul Rudd) who gets out of jail and crashes with his sisters, causing trouble in their lives. Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s drama Once Upon a Time in Anatolia was one of the most talked-about films at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins is a 19th-century Samurai tale. Werner Herzog’s latest documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, examines the prehistoric Chauvet Cave and its drawings.

A number of films are vying for the In the Spirit of Freedom Award, established to honor Lia van Leer’s late husband, Wim. These include Tanaz Eshaghian’s Love Crimes in Kabul, a documentary about women in prison in Afghanistan, and Marina Goldovskaya’s A Bitter Taste of Freedom, about the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

The Rendez-Vous section, a look at French cinema, features a tribute to the legendary clown/artist/filmmaker Pierre Etaix.

The Jewish Experience Category features a remarkable variety of subjects, including Between Two Worlds, a look at American Jewish life by Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman; Joseph Dorman’s Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness; and the American-made 1922 Yiddish film Breaking Home Ties.

Toward the end of her poem, van Leer writes, “Our friends have remained loyal, returning year after year/Saying NO to boycott, hatred and fear/Our audiences are always discerning and receptive/Curious, criti al, generous and perceptive.”

To be a part of the festival this year and order tickets, go to the website at http://www.jff.org.il/?cl=en.

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