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Veteran actor Bob Hoskins will be one of the guests at the Sixth Annual British Film Festival, which will take place at the Haifa, Jerusalem, Nazareth and Tel Aviv cinematheques from January 19-28. Co-sponsored by the British Council, it is presented with the participation of the British Embassy. Hoskins, whose long and distinguished career includes more than 80 films both British and American, has starred in such movies as Mona Lisa, The Long Good Friday, Vanity Fair and Enemy at the Gates but is probably best known to international audiences for his performance as the detective in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Hoskins arrives with his latest film, Mrs. Henderson Presents, directed by Stephen Frears, also starring Judi Dench. Mrs. Henderson, which is already generating Oscar buzz for Dench and Hoskins, is the story of a widow during World War II who, with some help from a streetwise character played by Hoskins, starts a nude burlesque revue. Producer Norma Heyman will also be a guest at the festival. Mrs. Henderson is one of the many outstanding recent British films that will be shown as part of the festival, which includes more than 30 feature films, documentaries and shorts. There will also be seminars on film production with British producers, directors, agents and screenwriters.
The opening film will be the latest version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, this one starring Keira Knightley (Bend It Like Beckham, Love, Actually) as the spunky heroine Elizabeth Bennett, and Matthew MacFadyen as the elusive Mr. Darcy. The star-studded cast includes former Bond girl Rosamund Pike as Elizabeth's sister Jane; Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland as their parents; and Judi Dench as a pushy visitor. The film's screenwriter, Deborah Moggach, will be a guest at the festival as well.
Moggach and Hoskins will be joined by a host of other guests, including Stephen Woolley, who will be attending screenings of his latest film, Stoned. It dramatizes the story of Brian Jones, who helped form the Rolling Stones, portraying him as a man isolated in a country mansion and quietly going crazy. Monet Mazur, who plays party girl Anita Pallenberg, will be at the festival as well. Don Boyd, director of Andrew and Jeremy Get Married, will be on hand to present his documentary, which focuses on a gay couple and how they combat prejudice. Rochelle Stevens and Steve Keynes, two British agents, will give seminars aimed at Israelis working in the film industry. Seminar topics include film acting and the role of agents in the industry.
The feature films range from gritty stories of poverty and drugs to costume dramas. The closing film is The Libertine, which stars Johnny Depp as the decadent 17th-century poet John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, who lived fast and died young. It also stars John Malkovich and Samantha Morton (Minority Report). Another Malkovich film is on the program, Colour Me Kubrick, which co-stars Marisa Berenson and is based on the story of Alan Conway, who went around London pretending to be Stanley Kubrick in the Nineties and fooled quite a few people.
A number of films deal with social issues. Jan Dunn's Gypo tells the story of a poor coastal town and the relations among unemployed British citizens and Czech immigrants there. Thomas Clay's The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael has stirred controversy for its portrayal of teens whose drug use leads them into a life of violence. Green Street Hooligans stars Elijah Wood as a Harvard dropout who becomes a soccer fan and gets involved with sports hooliganism.
Layer Cake stars Daniel Craig, the next James Bond, as a young man involved in the drug trade, and also features Michael Gambon as a crime boss.
Shooting Dogs, directed by Michael Caton-Jones, stars Hugh Dancy and John Hurt in a story of a British priest and his follower who witness the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
It's All Gone Pete Tong, a comedy about a superstar DJ in Ibiza who is losing his hearing, has drawn comparisons to the classic rockumentary spoof This Is Spinal Tap.
Although the Brits are not generally known for their science fiction fare, there are usually one or two sci-fi films in the festival, and this year it's Evil Aliens, about a couple trapped by aliens who land in the British countryside in their spaceship.
The documentary All About Darfur - directed by Taghreed Alsanhouri, a Sudanese living in London - looks at the conflict in Sudan from a personal point of view. Black Sun is a documentary about a French artist who was blinded in a robbery attempt but continues to travel the world and work.
The festival also includes classic British films and popular recent ones. One program features the British ambassador's favorite classic, a Bob Hoskins vehicle The Long Good Friday (1979). This drama, about a kingpin of the British underworld (Hoskins) negotiating with the American Mafia, also stars a young Helen Mirren.
Room at the Top (1958), the classic of the angry-young-man era, stars Lawrence Harvey as an ambitious young man who leaves the love of his life (Simone Signoret) to further his career. If you've never seen Terry Gilliam's 1981 cult classic Time Bandits, starring John Cleese and Sean Connery, on the big screen, then you'll have the chance. Ditto for Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell's Performance (1970), starring Mick Jagger in the story of a former rock star who gets involved with the underworld. Alfred Hitchcock's early sound film Blackmail, about a young woman who commits a murder and then is blackmailed, will also be shown.
Finally, there is one Israeli-British film on the list, Hill 24 Doesn't Answer, which had a British producer, director and a number of British actors.
With all the excitement this year over the festival's distinguished guests and seminars for Israeli movie professionals, don't be surprised if we start seeing more and more Israeli-British co-productions in the near future.