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There aren't many opportunities for kids to take part in the glamor of the Hollywood film industry. But with the inception of the "Giffoni Hollywood" children's film festival, many kids are getting the chance to briefly taste the spotlight.
Giffoni Hollywood, inspired by the 35-year-old Italian-based International Giffoni film festival, attempts to draw on the real Oscar experience by holding an awards ceremony in the same Kodak theater and inviting celebrities and film legends such as Meryl Streep, Will Smith, and Jon Voight to announce the Giffoni winners and take part in the festival's daily activities.
Embraced by the film industry (sponsors include Disney, Warner Bros, Paramount, Virgin and Universal Pictures), the festival is designed to inspire kids with a love for cinema. Young filmmakers, aged nine to 17, are treated to meetings with actors, directors, and other key players on the Hollywood scene. The peak of the festival arrives when the kids get the opportunity to judge films and features created by their fellow participants.
This year's festival, which took place April 23-29, honored two young Israeli filmmakers. Brit Harel, 17.5, and Igor Rachlin, 17, both won Giffoni Oscars for their short films - Golem and Our War respectively. However, since age restrictions limit the festival's participants, Brit (who is slightly older) was prevented from physically attending the festival and Omri Kiron, a school colleague from the Rabin school in Kfar Saba stepped in to represent her.
Filmmaker Rachlin, a student of Achad Ha-Am highschool in Petach Tikva was blown away by his Giffoni experience. "While working on [Our War] I could sense its high potential, but even in my wildest dreams I never imagined it would end up being screened in Hollywood and winning [a Giffoni] Oscar," he says.
Our War, a Russian-language film, tells the story of Russian immigrants who harbor feelings of resentment and even hatred towards the state of Israel and its symbols as a result of their rejection by Israeli society. Anrei, a Russian teenager whose brother was killed during his army service, holds the country responsible for his loss and resents both his Jewish origins and the state of Israel.
"Of course I had no personal experience being part of such a group, but I have known a young boy whose personal story is similar to that of Andrei," Rachlin relates. "I wanted to increase awareness of the fact that Israel is not doing enough to help these young immigrants absorb into society, and so they end up feeling like outsiders."
Our War has already garnered prizes at the Dimona film festival and was presented awards in other film festivals held in Haifa and Paris. But winning the Giffoni Oscar, Rachlin says, was the peak of his achievements. The film competed in the "Make it Happen" category, and was viewed by the 15-17 year-old age group. It won both for the best short film and achieved a special audience appreciation award.
"Meeting with young people from all over the world with similar interest in movies was the most amazing experience of my life," says Rachlin. "I was given a rare opportunity to learn about life in places such as Albania, India, Australia and other distant countries. And it was also an opportunity for us Israelis to tell others about our lives in Israel. Many were amazed by the fact we have to join the army and some of then even asked, 'what would happen if you refuse?' We realized how unnatural it felt for them - that instead of continuing our studies in the university we have to do the army. We also told them about night life in Israel and refuted the common view that bombs are exploding in our streets everyday."
Omer Kiron, who stepped in for filmmaker Brit Harel, says he felt he was a natural choice to represent his school in Kfar Saba.
"I am experienced with the media since I have my own radio show for teens at Kol Israel and I possess great command in the art of speech. I guess this was the main reason for my being chosen," he explains. "Later on I was invited to participate in the final ceremony and announce one of the winning movies. Cinema has always been a passion for me and therefore I chose to study the subject more seriously at school under the guidance of Dr. Maor Galor."
Galor, a mentor for many young filmmakers in Israel, prepared this year's Israeli participants for the festival.
"For seven days the students ate, drank and dreamt cinema," relates Maor. "We received V.I.P hospitality from the moment we arrived in Los Angeles. The students were taken from one party to another, visited CBS studios where they met with Paula Abdul and saw American Idol live. Afterward, they met with the actor Will Smith. All along we felt we were in some kind of fantasy...the students made friendships and contacts that will hopefully last a lifetime."
Harel's Golem, the second Israeli film to win a Giffoni Oscar, tells the story of a young boy who is in search for the perfect moment in life.
Fortunately for them, the Israeli delegation to the festival found many such moments in Hollywood.
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