For such a small country, Israel can't seem to get enough film festivals. A new one takes place almost every month, dedicated to some cinematic or geographic niche. In a typical year, film buffs can head out to Tel Aviv's documentary film festival (DocAviv), the Eilat International Film Festival, the Jerusalem film festival, and the Haifa film festival (just around the bend in October). Even quintessential periphery towns such as Sderot and Ashdod have their own film festivals. Now, the majority of filmmakers represented at these festivals are male. The third annual International Women's Film Festival, which takes place in Rehovot from September 13-16, hopes to raise the profile and the voice of women in cinema.
Encouraged by the success of last year's festival, which drew about 5,000 viewers, organizers have made it an annual tradition. The festival was launched three years ago by Anat Shperling, a journalist and director, and Naama Prizant, a film producer, to counter the disheartening statistics that give Israeli women filmmakers a low representation in the industry.
"If you open a newspaper and look at films playing, you find that two or three percent are done by women," says Shperling, artistic director of the festival and co-founder of the Women in Picture Association. "The perspective of women is different from that of men. We try to show the world as it is perceived by women in order to change society's thinking and conventions. We use cinema as a tool."
By bringing public attention to films by women, as well as encouraging professional dialogue among filmmakers, the founders hope to inspire and goad female filmmakers.
Shperling attributes the dearth of women filmmakers in part to the glass ceiling women encounter in many professions, as well as to the ambition of motherhood, which often supersedes professional goals.
It is only fitting, then, that a good portion of the short and long features, documentaries and animated films examine the themes of motherhood and mothering. According to Michal Aviad, artistic adviser of the festival, these films portray mothers as "complex, fascinating, autonomous characters. These films break away from the stereotypical vision of the mother as an almost mythical creature - a vision tainting most popular film."
A special program is dedicated to films by directors from the European Union. While some of these films date back to the 1990s, few have been shown in Israel. Among the most noteworthy are the German film Under the Ice about a mother's attempt to protect her child when his behavior leads to tragic consequences; the British film Mouth to Mouth about a teenager's entanglement with a street cult; and the documentary When Mother Comes Home for Christmas (Greece). The latter film, in addition to the Israeli film A Working Mom, follows the paradox of foreign workers who leave their children behind in their native country to make enough money to support them.
Among the two ground-breaking and award-winning documentaries shown are the American film Little Man, about a boy born three and a half months premature, and Voices of Bam, a Dutch documentary investigating the destruction of the Iranian city of Bam in the 2003 earthquake.
Israeli filmmakers will be given their own spotlight as part of The Lottery Stage Competition (sponsored by the Israel Lottery), in which 23 feature films, documentaries and shorts will compete for prizes. Films were selected based on their representation of the feminine voice.
The festival will honor two leading foreign filmmakers: Aparna Sen of India and Li Shaohong of China. Aparna Sen will be visiting Israel for the first time and will lead the audience in discussion following the screening of her social-political oriented films: 15 Park Avenue, 36 Chowringhee Lane and Mr. and Mrs. Iyer. Three films by Li Shaohong will be screened: Red Suit, Baober in Love and Stolen Life, which won the Tribeca film festival last year.
Thursday, September 14
10 a.m., 12 p.m. Blue Bird (Holland, 2004, 76 minutes)
5 p.m. Teen Mothers (Brazil, 2005, 71 min); Eggshells (France, 2003, 36 min) & For One More Hour with You (Italy, 2002, 55 min); The El-Hindi Sisters (Israel, 2005, 16 min), Tainted (Israel, 2006, 20 min) & Adora (Israel, 2006, 52 min); Top of the Hearts (France, 1999, 110 min)
7 p.m. 15 Park Avenue (India, 2005, 116 min) followed by discussion with Aparna Sen
7:30 p.m. Voices of Bam (Holland, 2005, 90 min); Everybody's Pregnant (US, 1997, 5 min) & Lili and the Baobab (French, 2005, 90 min); Metamorphosis (Israel, 2006, 57 min) followed by discussion with director
9 p.m. Cheftzi on Air (Israel, 2005, 22 min) & Raqqasa (Israel, 2006, 60 min)
10 p.m. High Rise (Britain, 2002, 4 min) & Risotto (Greece, 2000, 97 min);
Under the Ice (Germany, 2005, 92 min)
Friday, September 15
9 a.m. Immediate Boarding (Sweden 2006, 110 min)
11 a.m. Twilight (US, 2005, 21 min) & The Play (Turkey, 2005, 73 min);
My Imaginary Friend (Israel, 2004, 16 min), Solnishka (Israel, 2005, 16 min) & The Garden That Floated Away (Israel, 2006, 55 min); Under the Ice (Germany, 2005, 92 min)
1 p.m. Emuna Yaron (Israel, 2006, 26 min); A Greek Tragedy (Belgian, 1986, 6 min) & Will It Snow on Christmas (France, 1996, 90 min); Wonderwoman (Israel, 2005, 2.4 min), Empathy (Israel, 2005, 37 min) & About the Body (Israel, 2006, doc, 55 min); Mothers at the Center of the Picture (discussion)
4:30 p.m. Your Younger Daughter Rachel (Israel, 2006, 30 min) & Red Fields (Israel, 2006, doc, 60 min); Red Suit (China, 1998, 110 min)
7 p.m. Backstage (France, 2005, 115 min); My Grandmother Loves Me (Israel, 2005, 6 min) & The Cemetery Club (Israel, 2006, 90 min); Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (India, 2002, 120 min) followed by discussion with Aparna Sen
10 p.m. The Caterpillar Wish (Australia, 2006, 94 min); Little Man (US, 2005, 112 min); Stolen Life (China, 2005, 90 min)
Saturday, September 16
11 a.m. Immediate Boarding (Sweden 2006, 110 min; 36 Chowringhee Lane (Indian, 1981, 122 min) followed by discussion with Aparna Sen; Jonathan (Israel, 2005, 15 min), In Utero (Israel, 2006, 36 min), Code Name Silence (Israel, 2005, 50 min); Teen Mothers (Brazil, 2005, 71 min) followed by discussion on subject
2 p.m. Risotto (Greece, 2000, 97 min); Mothers & Daughters: A Collection of French Films (105 min); Collection of Latin American Films (64 min) & Mother's Day (Zimbabwe, 2005, 30 min); Before and After (Israel, 2005, 6 min), My Umbilical Cord (Israel, 2005, 35 min) & White Walls (Israel, 2005, 50 min)
4 p.m. When Mother Comes Home for Christmas (Greece, 1995, 80 min); Mouth to Mouth (Germany-England, 2005, 102 min); My Name Was Sabina Spielrein (Germany, 2003, 90 min), How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer (US, 2004, 128 min)
5:45 p.m. Immigrant Workers are Mothers Too (Discussion)
7 p.m. When Mother Comes Home for Christmas (Greece, 1995, 80 min); Baober in Love (China, 2003, 100 min); Voices of Bam (Holland, 2005, 90 min); One Night (Iran, 2005, 90 min)
9 p.m. Wide Sky (Britain, 2003, 5 min) & Martha, Martha (France, 2002, 102 min); Little Man (US, 2005, 112 min)
Closing Film: Look Both Ways (Australia, 2005, 100 min)
For more information, visit www.iwff.net. The films will be shown at the three auditoriums of the Chen Cinema and at the Mofet hall. Tickets are NIS 30 pre-sale or NIS 35 at the door and are available at (08) 946-7890 and (08) 936-4979.