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(photo credit: Courtesy)
It's an accomplishment that the 22nd Haifa International Film Festival is taking place this year as planned, given that its staff had to organize part of the festival from shelters while Katyushas fell outside during the war this summer. But the lineup for this year's festival, which will be held at the Haifa Cinematheque and other theaters around the city between October 7 and 14, is by far the most exciting programming I've ever seen at Haifa, with about 150 movies from 40 countries. The fact that the festival came together under such trying circumstances is a tribute to the tenacity of its programmers and their great love of movies.
Lovers of prestige Hollywood movies will want to see the opening and closing night films - Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, about three couples at different times in history, featuring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, and Allen Coulter's Hollywoodland, a film noir based on a real-life Tinseltown suicide (or murder), with Ben Affleck, Diane Lane and Adrien Brody. Other gala films include Little Miss Sunshine, the Sundance favorite about a crazy family on a road trip to bring a little girl to compete in a rural beauty pageant; An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary on global warming with Al Gore; Robert Altman's much-praised A Prairie Home Companion, which stars Meryl Streep and Lindsay Lohan; and Ken Loach's The Wind that Shakes the Barley, the winner of the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes festival, about an Irish militia fighting British troops in 1920.
Loach, who was invited to the festival, publicly declared at the end of August that he would boycott it to show solidarity with the Palestinians. But while Loach may be boycotting Haifa, Haifa isn't boycotting Loach.
Agnieszka Holland, the Warsaw-born director known for such films as Europa, Europa, Washington Square and Julie Walking Home, will attend the festival to present her latest movie, Copying Beethoven. The film stars Ed Harris as the composer and focuses on the last days of his life, when he was writing the Ninth Symphony.
Other festival guests are connected with the retrospectives being presented on the filmmakers Sam Peckinpah and Roberto Rossellini. Five Peckinpah classics will be shown, including The Wild Bunch, while Renzo Rossellini, the son of Roberto Rossellini and the producer of some of his father's work, will speak about the senior Rossellini's career. The Italian director's greatest film, Roma, Citta Aperta (Rome, Open City), will be screened.
The Award for Special Contribution to Israeli Cinema will be awarded to Yehuda (Judd) Ne'eman. A physician who headed Tel Aviv University's film department, Ne'eman is known for his intelligent, political films, such as Paratroopers and Streets of Yesterday. A retrospective of his work will be shown, including two new films, Nuzhat Al-Fuad, the story of a blocked soap-opera writer and her lead actress; and Sheherzade's Tears, a documentary about a dancer from the Ukraine who has created a Jewish-Arab dance company in Israel.
It's an especially strong year for the Israeli competitions. The documentary category has 16 entries, including films on such disparate subjects as the campaign to arrest foreign workers, in 52/50; the marriage plans of a disabled man in About Yossi; Jews from pre-state Palestine who volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War, in Madrid Before Hanita; the last six surviving Warsaw Ghetto fighters, in The Last Fighters; a boy blinded and orphaned in the terror attack on Maxim's Restaurant who fights to open a sailing center for the disabled, in Feeling the Wind; and an Arab woman left paralyzed after Israeli planes bombed her village in 1948 who is later asked to forgive the bomber, in Arus Eljalil.
Among the films in competition for the Golden Anchor Award, given to the best film made in a Mediterranean country, include Claude Chabrol's examination of the French judicial system, Comedy of Power, and Rachid Bouchareb's Days of Glory, an account of Algerian soldiers fighting for France in World War II that won a Best Actor Award at Cannes for its ensemble cast.
A US/Iranian co-production by director Ramin Bahrani, Man Push Cart, the story of a Pakistani immigrant in New York, is part of the Panorama Section. There are also several new films by world-renowned directors in this section, including Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly, Wim Wenders' Don't Come Knocking, 98-year-old Manoel de Oliveira's Belle Toujours and Michael Winterbottom's Tristam Shandy. 13 Tzameti, the controversial film about a Russian roulette game, will be shown in the New Directors competition.
The annual Boston-Haifa Film Connection program, devoted this year to the theme of "Jewish Identity Around the Globe," features (among eight films) Family Law, the latest film by Daniel Burman, the Argentine director whose films spotlight Argentina's Jewish community, and 18-J, an anthology of 10 films by directors from Argentina (including Burman), to commemorate the killing of 85 people at the Argentina-Israeli Mutual Association Building in Buenos Aires in 1994.
On Monday night, there will be a special evening to honor the city of Haifa, called "Haifa-War Journal," which will feature two films, the documentary Eli and Nasser - Haifa War Journal, highlighting the experiences of Arab and Jewish journalists covering the war; and Rafik Halabi's Al Ittihad: A Missile in the Wadi, a film that follows the story of Al Ittihad, a newspaper symbolizing the tradition of Jewish-Arab co-existence in Haifa that took a direct missile hit during the war. Tickets to this evening, and to many of the programs, will go fast.
This year at Haifa, the show won't just go on, it'll flourish.