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This year's British Film Festival, which will take place at the cinematheques in Haifa, Jerusalem, Nazareth and Tel Aviv from January 18-27, spotlights "the best of what's coming out this year in the UK," says Scott Talmon, communications officer for the British Council.
This is the seventh year that the British Council (along with the cinematheques) has put on this most enjoyable festival. Viewers can choose from well-known films with big stars, gems of indie British cinema, documentaries, classics, shorts, and a television marathon. British actors and directors will be on hand to present their films to the Israeli public, and there will be panel discussions intended for the general public and for Israeli film professionals.
The opening film is the offbeat comedy-drama Cashback, about an art student who develops insomnia and starts working nights in a supermarket, where he falls for one of the checkout girls. Its star, Sean Biggerstaff, along with the film's director, Sean Ellis, and producer, Lene Bausager, will attend screenings.
Director Simon Rumley and producer Nick O'Hagan of the film The Living and the Dead will also be visiting Israel and will be present at screenings. Their film tells the story of a troubled family in a creepy mansion.
British films have always been known for their acting, and the two performances that have garnered the most critics' awards this year (and are expected to win Oscars and Golden Globes) will be included in the festival. Helen Mirren stars as the current queen of England, trying to cope with the public mourning over Princess Diana's death, in Stephen Frears's The Queen. Frears directed last year's British Festival film Mrs. Henderson Presents. Forest Whitaker plays the volatile and frightening Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, in Kevin MacDonald's The Last King of Scotland.
Another movie that has won praise for its performances is the film adaptation of Alan Bennett's acclaimed play The History Boys, about a Yorkshire boys' prep school in the Eighties, which stars Richard Griffiths and Stephen Campbell Moore.
Several films deal with immigrants and minorities in Britain today, including Shoot the Messenger, about a teacher committed to saving his students from a life of crime; Mischief Night, about the clash of cultures between two neighboring families, one English-born, one Indian; and Almost Adult, about two African immigrant young women.
The British music scene is front and center in several of the films, including Life & Lyrics, a look at a rivalry between two hip-hop DJs and the documentary Glastonbury, about the famous counter-culture music festival, billed as the longest-running music festival in the world.
The closing film will be Snowcake, a British-Canadian co-production about a man (Alan Rickman), who falls in love with an autistic woman (Sigourney Weaver).
There is a strong documentary category, two of which focus on the tourist industry that has grown up around sites connected to the Holocaust. Rex Bloomstein's KZ is about tourism to the Mathausen site in Austria, and Jes Benstock's The Holocaust Tourist is about tourist sites in Poland. Both Bloomstein and Benstock will attend the festival and will participate in a discussion on the questions raised by their films, along with representatives of Yad Vashem, at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on January 21. Phillips, the British ambassador, has contributed one of his favorite films to the program, in the Ambassador's Choice category: the 1967 Two for the Road, directed by Stanley Donen. If you've never seen this modern classic, this is a wonderful (and rare) opportunity to see it on the big screen. It features Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney as a couple at various stages of their relationship, during several trips across Europe.
Phillips explains why he chose the film: "Among the many reasons I like Two for the Road: Audrey Hepburn; the sparkling, sardonic script by Frederic Raphael; the way time is layered and linked; Eleanor Bron [who plays an old girlfriend of Finney's] like chalk on a blackboard; and that it is a grown-up film about a relationship." He will attend the film's Tel Aviv screening.
Other classic British films will be featured in a retrospective of films by director Nicolas Roeg. Many of his films have achieved cult classic status, four of which will be shown at the festival. Walkabout (1971) is a haunting film about two white Australian children abandoned in the Outback, who are befriended by a young aborigine played by David Gulpilil. Walkabout was his debut, and he has since gone on to a career as one of Australia's most distinguished actors. Don't Look Now (1973) tells the story of a couple vacationing in Venice (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland), who are haunted by memories of their child who died suddenly. The strange, lonely alien played by David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) will leave a stronger impression than all the cute, cuddly space creatures or the murderous monsters in every other film about space travelers. Bad Timing (1980), the story of an obsessive love affair between a psychiatrist and a patient, stars Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell, whom Roeg later married.
Destricted is a collection of seven short films on sex and art by renowned directors, including Matthew Barney, Gaspar Noe and Larry Clark. The screening at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on January 19 will be followed by a panel discussion on the topic "Can Pornography Be Art and Can Art Be Pornography?" led by Dr. Diana Silberman-Keller of Beit Berl College.
Aspiring Israeli filmmakers will want to attend a workshop led by John Durie, the head of Strategic Film Marketing, on marketing strategies, held on January 17 and 18, in conjunction with the Israel Film Fund.
Using film to teach English is the subject of a workshop called "Film in the Classroom," which will feature a screening of the cartoon "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit." For information on this educational project, go to www.Jane.Shurrush@britishcouncil.org.il
The shorts program this year will have a science-fiction theme. The TV marathon (a festival tradition) will feature six episodes of the cult television show Blackpool, which mixes drama, music and suspense.
British films will definitely rule the cinematheques this January. For more information, go to the British Council Web site at http://www.britishcouncil.org/israel.htm