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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Foul Gesture, the latest film by Tzahi Grad, won the top prize Saturday night in the Israeli Feature Film Competition at the 22nd Haifa International Film Festival. Winners in a number of other categories were also announced as part of the festival's closing ceremony, but in what was probably the most closely watched contest, Foul Gesture took home the festival's most lucrative honor - a prize of NIS 120,000 - over six other entries. Continuing the trend of contemporary Israeli directors who have turned away from stridently political filmmaking to concentrate on social issues, Grad tells the story of an ordinary man who finds his life turned upside down as a result of what should have been a minor incident. It stars veteran Israeli actors Gal Zaid, Keren Mor and Asher Tsarfati.
Grad also works as an actor and was one of the stars of this year's winner of the Sharon Amrani/Makor Fund Prize for Best Television Drama, Ron Ninio's A Touch Away, about a secular Russian family coming to grips with its ultra-Orthodox neighbors. Grad also recently won the Ophir Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Someone to Run With.
In the Israeli feature film category, the Stella Artois Prize went to David Volach's Summer Vacation, the story of a Haredi family on an outing to the Dead Sea that also won a cinematography prize. The film's two honors came with monetary awards totaling NIS 48,000, one of the largest hauls of any film competing for the NIS 300,000 handed out at the end of the festival.
It was an extraordinarily competitive year for Israeli documentaries, with 16 films competing in that category. The winner was Daniel Sivan's Monkey Business, about a family of petty criminals in which one boy tries to arrange a festive bar mitzva celebration for his brother.
Basel Tanus' documentary Arus Eljalil (Bride of the Galilee) won two awards, the development grant from the New Fund for Film and Television and a post-production grant for editing services from Tel Aviv Studios. The film focuses on an Israeli-Arab woman who was engaged to be married at the outbreak of the Independence War, was crippled by an Israeli bomb and recently met with the Israeli who dropped that bomb.
Another bombing victim, this one a boy who lost most of his family and his sight in the suicide bombing at Maxim restaurant in Haifa three years ago, was the subject of the documentary Feeling the Wind, which won the Haifa Arts Foundation's award.
The prize for Best Israeli Short Film went to Dead End, directed by Omri Matalon, about a young Israeli and a Palestinian who take a trip together. Liron Zuckerman's short, Music from the Heart, the story of an Arab-Jewish romance, won a special mention, while God on Our Side, by Michal Feffer and Uri Krenot, won the prize for Best Animated Short.
In the Golden Anchor competition, an award given to films from countries along the Mediterranean, the winner was Bruno Dumont's Flanders, the story of a farm worker from rural France who is sent to fight in a war in the Middle East. The film also won the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
A Special Mention in the Golden Anchor Category went to Croatian director Dejan Sorak's Two Players from the Bench, about two volleyball players who are the key witnesses for a general called up on war crimes charges at the International Tribunal in the Hague.
The FIPRESCI Award for Best Young Director, given by international film critics, went to Hans Steinbichler of Germany for Winter Journey, about a bankrupt businessman who heads off to Kenya to investigate a moneymaking scheme with a young Kurdish woman.
It's impossible to say there was any typical film at this year's festival, but the eclectic, international plot of Winter Journey reflects the inventiveness and originality of many of the festival's films. The question now is which ones will end up playing here after earning a commercial release.