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With over 350 films, the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs from September 7-16, is probably the world's largest. It also features a number of world premieres by big-name directors - Ridley Scott's A Good Year starring Russell Crowe, Anthony Minghella's Breaking and Entering starring Jude Law, and Michael Apted's Amazing Grace with Albert Finney all will debut at the festival - and it may be the festival that gets the most serious attention from Hollywood, much more so in recent years than Cannes.
So it's only fitting that Israel would have a high profile at Toronto, with two excellent feature films, Eytan Fox's sexy but serious The Bubble, about a tragic romance between a Jew and a Palestinian set amid Tel Aviv's trendy cafes, which is screening in the Special Presentations category, and Dror Shaul's Sweet Mud, a bitter but involving kibbutz coming-of-age story which will be shown in the Contemporary World Cinema category.
While the world has recently acknowledged that Israelis have started making good movies, anyone familiar with the international club scene knows that Israelis definitely know how to party, and the directors of both films are co-sponsoring a big celebration. It's at Toronto's Phoenix Concert Center on September 11 at 10 p.m. and will feature performances by Ivri Lider (who provided the soundtrack and appears briefly in The Bubble) and Hawkesly Workman. Tickets are selling fast.
It's a coup for both directors to have their films shown at Toronto. Although Fox has had international success at film festivals in the past, particularly with Yossi & Jagger, it's never a foregone conclusion that any director's latest film will be included at a major international festival. Dror Shaul has had hits in Israel with his earlier films Operation Grandma (Mivtza Savta) in 1999 and Sima Vaknin, Witch in 2003 - both comedies with a distinctly local flavor - but has never gotten this kind of international attention before.
Both directors are in very good company in their respective categories. This year's Contemporary World Cinema program includes the latest works by Agnieszka Holland (best known for Europa Europa) and Tony Gatlif (Latcho Drom), as well as Rachid Bouchareb's Indegenes, about North African soldiers who fought for France during World War II, which won the Best Actor Award at Cannes.
The Bubble shares the Special Presentations category with the latest films by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream), Hal Hartley (Trust), Todd Field (In the Bedroom), Kenneth Branagh (Much Ado About Nothing), Mira Nair (Vanity Fair, Monsoon Wedding), Guillermo del Toro (Cronos), and Marc Forster (Finding Neverland). In addition, this category includes the much anticipated Paris, je t'aime, a collection of short films about the city by a star-studded group of directors, including the Coen brothers, Gus Van Sant, Walter Salles, Alfonso Cuaron, Wes Craven, Tom Twyker and Alexander Payne.
Those of us who can't make it to Toronto can follow the festival on the Internet, at http://www.e.bell.ca/filmfest/2006/home/default.asp
YOU HAVE to hand it to Israel's film buffs - we're a tough bunch. Throughout the recent bombardments of Northern Israel, the Haifa Cinematheque and the Nazareth Cinematheque quietly went on showing films (although a nearby Katyusha attack did force the cancellation of one evening's programming in Nazareth), just as the Sderot Cinematheque has stayed open for business in the face of repeated Kassam attacks on the city.
I remember vividly that Sderot's management did not cancel any of its programming for its 2004 Cinema of the South Festival in spite of a very serious Kassam barrage that caused extensive damage in the industrial area the day before, and that the festival's guest of honor, Richard Gere, showed up and was presented with a gift from the mayor - a piece of shrapnel.
I just received my usual monthly press release from the Haifa Cinematheque, which opens with the news that in September the cinematheque is spotlighting Portuguese films and classic comedies. There is also a brief mention that there will be Israeli films about Lebanon, as well as Palestinian films, although exactly which films will be shown has yet to be announced.
To outsiders, the idea that Haifa's residents will be flocking to see Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges comedies or the works of veteran Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira may seem downright bizarre. But why should we compromise our movie-going standards just because of a war? I imagine that the country's cinematheques will be packed as usual this month.
We'll have to wait and see what happens with the guest list for the Haifa International Film Festival during the Succot holiday in October. British director Ken Loach has already declined his invitation to the festival, and called on others to join the Palestinian boycott of Israeli cultural institutions.