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The Negev's Films and Filmmakers Festival differs from most movie fests in that it's more about dialogue and eye-opening than it is about accolades and prizes. Co-sponsored by The Ramat Hanegev Regional Council and The Ben-Gurion Heritage Institute, the fifth incarnation of the festival kicks off on Wednesday with 20 movies, all Israeli. Many of the directors and subjects behind the various fictional features and documentaries will be on hand to participate in forums.
The festival is the brainchild of Anat Shragai, who teaches the history of cinema at Ben-Gurion University. Shragai has been working on Films and Filmmakers since the beginning, when it was just a weekend screening series at Kibbutz Revidim.
Every year, the dialogue discussions and associated peripheral events have grown in prominence and variety, Shragai claims, but the concept has remained relatively static: audiences from around the country are given the opportunity to watch and discuss some of the Israeli industry's more innovative offerings.
"The audience needs to ponder the fringe and to recognize its significance," she says.
Thought-provoking contemporary Israeli selections slated for this year include Small Heroes; Frozen Days; The Cemetery Club; Aviva My Love; and Someone to Run With, which is based on David Grossman's novel about two troubled Jerusalem youths who explore the city's underbelly.
The controversial Bli'in My Dear documentary chronicles the efforts of Israelis and Palestinians to protest plans for the security barrier around Modi'in that would have split a nearby Arab village; director Shai Carmeli-Pollack will be on hand for a discussion following the film. After the screening of Half-Russian Story, about a boy from a Moroccan-Russian Israeli family who studies ballroom dancing, director Eitan Aner and Gesher Theater diva Yevgenia Dodina are scheduled to answer questions.
This year, the festival will feature arts performances for the first time. This year's festival is also the first to be planned in conjunction with a film school, and the inclusion of Sapir Academic College's budding cinema program promises to add to the edgy aspects of the proceedings. Following the program's recent accreditation from the Higher Education Council, Sapir, located outside Sderot, is the only educational institution in the land other than Tel Aviv University that offers a full bachelor's degree in cinema arts. More than 300 students are enrolled in the program, which prides itself on alternative thinking and a hands-on, student-led approach.
The Sapir contribution to Films and Filmmakers includes a lecture by Avner Feingelrant, head of the Sapir film school, and the screening of five student projects. Sisai, for example, a documentary created by one graduate, tells the story of an Ethiopian immigrant to Israel who faces challenges when his father decides to stay behind in Ethiopia.
The Films and Filmmakers Festival takes place Wednesday through Saturday at venues around the Ramat Hanegev region. For more details, a full schedule and tickets, visit www.ramatnegev.org.il or call (08) 656-4161.