With 200 films being shown in 10 days, plus dozens of press conferences, master classes, discussion panels and other events, it's hard to sample even a small fraction of what's on offer at the 23rd Jerusalem Film Festival. Here are a few observations.
Because there are so many screenings and events in such a short time, the festival can be a logistical nightmare. Audience members, filmmakers and journalists all have to endure a certain amount of unexpected inconvenience (screenings cancelled at the last minute, etc.), but most bear it with grace and humor.
None of this is unusual for film festivals. There are famous stories from Cannes and Sundance of directors not being admitted to screenings of their own films.
At one point, as I was watching a DVD in the Jerusalem Cinematheque library, I heard a familiar voice asking whether this was the office that gave credentials to festival guests. I turned to see that it was none other than Debra Winger. It's hard to imagine another star of her caliber who would be independent and down-to-earth enough to try to navigate the hectic corridors of the Cinematheque on her own.
There is always buzz about which Israeli movies will win the Wolgin Awards for best documentary and best feature. This year there were no clear front runners in either category, with nine features and 14 documentaries competing. I did hear that Aviva My Love, the story of a woman who becomes a writer late in life, was the best of the features, but it's too early to say.
Yad Vashem is giving a new award for the best Holocaust-themed production in the festival, the Chairman's Award. This makes sense, since there are quite a number of films on the Holocaust every year, especially in the Jewish Experience category, both documentaries and features. Another new award is the LIA Award, given in honor of Lia van Leer for films dealing with Jewish heritage. These awards are endowed by Leon and Michaela Constantiner.
Polanski for real
Life Achievement Award winner director Roman Polanski was rather blas about his latest honor, telling reporters, "I'll put it in the collection of all the other awards I've received."
However, he couldn't have been more of a good sport at the packed press conference and reception, where he signed autographs for fans. He also chatted with film students and agreed to give a talk at the Tel Aviv University film school.
As the reception was winding down, he amused festival founder and director Lia van Leer and other senior festival staff by telling a Jewish mother joke (the one where the woman at the theater asks if there's a doctor in the house and then tries to introduce him to her daughter).
Autographs, jokes.... You couldn't ask for more in a festival guest. Polanski, the director of such classics as Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown, confirmed my theory that the most gifted and important artists usually put on the fewest airs.