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(photo credit: Courtesy)
The 26th Jerusalem Film Festival runs through July 18 and features over 200 films from 35 countries in 10 days. This year, the Israeli competitions are particularly exciting. For only the second time in the history of the festival, an Israeli film, A Matter of Size (Sipur Gadol), was the opening attraction. And the competition among Israeli films, particularly for the Wolgin Awards for Best Israeli Features, Documentaries and Shorts will be intense.
The director of the festival and of the Jerusalem Cinematheque, Ilan de Vries said, "Israeli cinema continues to blossom, becoming increasingly interesting and relevant, capturing the attention of viewers around the world."
Will another Israeli Oscar nominee emerge from the feature films in competition for the Wolgin Award? It's very possible. Three of the features were at this year's Cannes, generating a real buzz there.
Ajami, directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, won a Special Mention in the Camera d'Or section. It focuses on a neighborhood in Jaffa, and the connections among Palestinians and Jews there.
Keren Yedaya's Jaffa is a family drama also set in that city. It stars Ronit Elkabetz, Moni Moshonov and Dana Ivgy and tells the story of a love affair between the Jewish daughter of a garage owner and one of the Arabs who works in the garage. This is Yedaya's first film since Or, which won the Camera d'Or prize at Cannes in 2004.
The other film shown in this category shown at Cannes, Haim Tabakman's Eyes Wide Open, is about the forbidden attraction between two ultra-Orthodox men in Jerusalem, and should generate controversy due to its subject matter. Tinkerball, Zohar Strauss and Ron Danker star.
Renen Schorr is known in the Israeli film community as the director of the Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem. He began his career as a well-regarded director, but has not made a film since Late-Summer Blues more than 20 years ago. His new movie, The Loners, will be shown in the Wolgin Competition. It stars Sasha Agrounov, Anton Ostrovosky and Tzahi Grad in a story about two Russian soldiers who are unjustly courtmartialed who then lead a rebellion in the military prison where they are being held.
Samuel Maoz's Lebanon also looks at the military. Set during the First Lebanon War, it's about four soldiers dispatched to a hostile town, which turns out to be a far more dangerous assignment than they anticipated. Itay Turan and Oshri Cohen, who were in Beaufort, another drama set in Lebanon, star, along with Moni Moshonov.
Moshonov, who has replaced Moshe Ivgy as the hardest-working Israeli actor, also stars in Jorge Gurvich's Mrs. Moskowitz and the Cats, about an older woman who wakes up disoriented in a hospital and then becomes integrated into the social life there.
Competition is also intense for the Anat Pirchi Awards for best television dramas.
Israeli actors appear in films from other countries during the festival as well. Ayelet Zurer, who attended the festival opening and recently starred opposite Tom Hanks in Angels & Demons, the sequel to The Da Vinci Code, appears in Lightbulb, an American indie film about an inventor in Arizona who follows his far-fetched dreams. Ronit Elkabetz stars opposite Catherine Deneuve in Andre Techine's La Fille du Rer, about a young, unemployed woman who makes up a story of an anti-Semitic assault on a train.
Several other well-known directors have new films showing at the festival. Among them is Theo Angelopoulos, whose latest film, The Dust of Time, will be shown in addition to his receiving a Life Achievement Award. Angelopoulos will be on hand to discuss his film after the screening. It's about a Greek director making a film about his parents' lives during World War II.
Russian director Karen Shakhnazarov has two films in this year's festival, Ward No. 6, an adaptation of the Chekhov short story, and Vanished Empire, about a young student in Moscow in the seventies.
Jan Troell, another veteran director, best known for his seventies films, The Emigrants and The New Land, has just made Everlasting Moments, about a dissatisfied wife in early 20th century Sweden who becomes a photographer.
Manoel de Oliveira, a centenarian, has a new film, Eccentricities of a Blond-Hair Girl, an adaptation of a 19th-century love story set in Lisbon. Claire Denis' latest film, 35 Rhums, and Claude Chabrol's police story, Bellamy, starring Gerard Depardieu, will be shown, too.
Among the American films being shown is Che, the biopic of Che Guevara starring Benicio Del Toro and directed by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic). Sam Mendes, the director who made American Beauty, is also represented in the festival with his latest film, Away We Go, about a couple who are not quite ready for parenthood, starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph.
Elia Suleiman, the controversial and celebrated Nazareth-born director who's last film was Divine Intervention, also has a new film in the festival, a story about his family from 1948 until the present day. The director stars, along with Saleh Bakri, Ali Suliman and Menashe Noy.
Another important category is the In the Spirit of Freedom competition. Given in memory of Wim van Leer, the late husband of Jerusalem Cinematheque and Jerusalem Film Festival founding director Lia van Leer, these films come from all over the world and focus on the struggle for human rights.
There is also an award given to the Best Film in the Jewish Experience category, named the LIA Award, as a tribute to Lia van Leer.
A photo exhibit in honor of actress Anna Magnani, along with three of her films will be shown. Among these classics is Rome, Open City (1945) by Roberto Rossellini.
There are a great many special programs this year, some of which, such as screenings of MGM musicals throughout the center of town, are free (although, of course, seating is limited).
The Jerusalem Moments 2009 program features seven short documentary films by young Palestinian and Jewish directors about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Cinema Jerusalem is a program devoted to Jerusalem's Mamilla neighborhood. A documentary about Mamilla, archival footage and a documentary on Yehoram Gaon, I Am a Jerusalemite, will be screened at the amphitheater on the Mamilla Alrov Avenue. At the Jerusalem Pitch Point, audiences can watch as aspiring Israeli filmmakers pitch their projects to foreign producers, distributors and network executives.
And, Yiddish film lovers will be happy to hear that there is a new print of the 1935 Boris Thomashefsky film Bar Mitzvah. It involves a bar mitzvah, amnesia, adultery, gun-toting con artists and several songs, including "Erlekh Zayn" (Be Virtuous).
Films will be shown in the cinematheque's four auditoriums, the Lev Smadar Theater, the Begin Heritage Center, Ticho House and other venues around the city. Tickets tend to sell out quickly, so for further information or to buy tickets, go to the festival website at jff.org.il.