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If you visit Israel, it seems your prospects for being appointed to serve on the jury of a major film festival are increased. Paul Schrader, the director (Affliction) and screenwriter (Taxi Driver) who came to Israel last summer to announce that his next film would be made here, will head the jury of the Berlin International Film Festival this year, which will take place from February 8-18. Adam Resurrected, Schrader's next film, the surreal story of a Holocaust survivor based on the book by Yoram Kaniuk, stars Jeff Goldblum and is set to start filming in the spring.
Other members of the Berlin jury include actor Willem Dafoe, who attended the 2005 Haifa International Film Festival, and Nazareth-born actress and director Hiam Abbass. The Cannes Film Festival recently announced that its jury president this May will be director Stephen Frears, whose celebrated The Queen is screening as part of the British Film Festival at the cinematheques throughout Israel - and will be in wide release here on January 25. Frears, who has had a long career as a director - his films include Dangerous Liaisons, My Beautiful Laundrette, High Fidelity and Dirty Pretty Things - attended the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2001 with his Depression-era drama, Liam.
The programs for both Cannes and Berlin have yet to be announced.
The Sundance Film Festival is on now and runs through January 27. This festival, which features the best of independent cinema from around the world, always has a few movies that generate a great deal of buzz. In recent years, this buzz has often revolved around kinky sex scenes. This year, one of the sexiest is rumored to be Adrift in Manhattan, starring Heather Graham as an ophthalmologist who gets involved with a stranger. There has also been controversy about Hounddog, which features a graphic scene in which 12-year-old actress Dakota Fanning (War of the Worlds, Uptown Girls) is sexually assaulted. On the tamer side, Grace Is Gone, which stars John Cusack as a husband who has to tell his children that their mother has been killed while serving in the US army in Iraq, is said to be one of the best films on the program.
The Short Film category at Sundance is one of the most competitive, and you can view these films free at http://festival.sundance.org. The special screenings category features a 44-minute version of Lauren Thierry's Autism Every Day, a documentary about families raising autistic children that has been available for about a year in a shorter version at http://www.autismspeaks.org/sponsoredevents/autism_every_day.php
Autism affects more children every year, both in Israel and abroad. Although this film isn't a groundbreaking work, parents of autistic children and their friends will appreciate its sensitive and incisive take on the issue. Hollywood movies about autism, such as Rain Man, may be entertaining but have next to nothing to do with the daily reality of life with an autistic person.
Joseph Cedar's Beaufort, about the IDF in Lebanon, won't open till March, but you can see two trailers on the film's Web site, www.bufor.co.il. The trailers both have English translations, and the site also features information about the factual basis of the film, as well as biographies of the cast and crew.
THE BRITISH FILM FESTIVAL continues, with interesting movies every day. While such high-profile films as The Queen, The Last King of Scotland and The History Boys are sure to open commercially throughout Israel following the festival, you might want to check out some of the lower-profile films. Tonight at 11:30 p.m. at the YMCA (which the Jerusalem Cinematheque is using for its Friday night screenings), you can see Christopher Smith's Severance, which has been described as a cross between The Office and Deliverance. It's a comic-horror film about a multinational corporation that rewards its employees with a weekend of war games in the mountains, but the games turn into a true fight for survival.
On Saturday at 7:30 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque's Binyanei Ha'uma location, Menhaj Huda's Kidulthood, a look at a group of troubled West London teenagers, will be shown. If you're in the mood for something more upbeat, check out Douglas Mackinnon's The Flying Scotsman, based on the story of a cyclist who broke a world record on a bike of his own design. Scotsman is showing on Saturday at 9:30 p.m.
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