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This year's Jerusalem Film Festival, which begins on July 6 and runs through July 15, is breaking with 21 years of tradition by opening with an Israeli film, Oded Davidoff's Someone to Run With. Now that the decision has been made, the obvious question is: What took so long? Jerusalem Cinematheque and Jerusalem Film Festival founder and director Lia van Leer has always seen the festival as an opportunity to support and promote the Israeli film industry, as well as a forum to bring the best films and filmmakers from around the world to Israel. So opening the festival with an Israeli film projected on the giant screen at the Sultan's Pool in front of a crowd of thousands seems like the perfect way to give the newly mature Israeli film industry its due. Someone to Run With is an adaptation of David Grossman's bestselling novel about two teens in Jerusalem searching for the girl's drug-addicted brother and a lost dog. Although we have to wait and see what the film is like, literary adaptations have often been Israel's finest movies. The adaptation of A.B. Yehoshua's Three Days and a Child, for example, directed by Uri Zohar, won its star, Oded Kotler, a Best Actor Award at Cannes in 1967.
As for the rest of the festival, the entire lineup has not been announced, but the latest films by some of the world's most prestigious directors will be featured this year, including movies by Roman Polanski, Werner Herzog, Sidney Lumet, Chen Kaige, Istvan Szabo, Manoel de Oliveira, Steven Soderbergh, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Chantal Ackerman. These names may not be household words everywhere, but they are music to film buffs' ears.
The festival Website is not completely up and running yet, but keep checking it for details at http://www.jff.org.il
TONIGHT, THE Jerusalem Cinematheque is holding an especially enjoyable marathon, focusing on the Coen brothers' movies. It starts at 10 p.m. with The Big Lebowski (1998), a cult classic that wasn't that well reviewed when it was first released but has a fanatical following and has inspired annual festivals all over the US. It tells the story of the Dude (Jeff Bridges), a slacker who gets mixed up in a mistaken identity/kidnapping scheme, along with his best buddy, Walter (John Goodman), a bowler and convert to Judaism. Speaking of the Jerusalem Film Festival, this film was the opening attraction in 1998 and audiences were shocked and delighted to hear the Goodman character shout out that he was "Shomer f---ing shabbos" and to quote from the wisdom of Theodore Herzl. Those who were there will never forget it.
Next up is Fargo (1996), one of the brothers' trademark bizarre, violent and funny movies, also about a kidnapping, this one in freezing Minnesota. The Coens won an Oscar for the screenplay and Frances McDormand, Joel Coen's wife, received a Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Marge Gunderson, the homily-spouting, very pregnant police officer who solves the case. This is the only movie I can think of in which the main character is pregnant but does not give birth during the film.
The final offering is Miller's Crossing (1990), a period movie about a gang war, that, apart from John Turturro's inspired scene as a guy about to get whacked, is the Coens' least enjoyable film.
ARE YOU AS underwhelmed as I am by the vast majority of the commentaries that you can access on DVDs? The only time I've ever wanted to listen to a director rather than the regular movie soundtrack was Terry Gilliam on the Twelve Monkeys DVD. If you're with me on this, we're not the only ones. The writers at the Website the AVClub have just published an article called, "The 15 People You Meet Listening to DVD Commentaries." They categorize various types of commentators, including the "Irritating Academic," the "Fake Underdog," and the "Doddering Oldster." Incidentally, when the acclaimed documentary director Frederick Wiseman was here to accept the Dan David Prize a couple of years ago, he told me he didn't understand the need for DVD commentaries and extras. "You should be able to find out everything you need to know from watching the movie," he said. You can read the "15 People" article at http://www.avclub.com/content/node/49455