Ignore the controversy

Whether its disturbing politics thrill or anger you, the riches of the British Film Festival are well worth your attendance.

uk film festival 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
uk film festival 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A combination of classics, controversy and cutting-edge films characterize the Eighth British Film Festival in Israel, sponsored by the British Council and held at cinematheques in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Nazareth from January 15 to 26. Controversy is not a word that would have been associated with this festival in the past, but this year, the British Council announced that Judy Price - an artist in residence at the London Jewish Cultural Centre and a member of a group called Jews for Justice for Palestinians - would curate a series of archival film screenings about the British Mandate period for this year's festival. Called "A Sense of History, Scene 1, Shot 2," the series is made up of material from the Imperial War Museum, the British Film Institute, and the Axelrod Collection of the Jerusalem Cinematheque. Marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel, this program will explore the role of the British Mandate in Palestine from 1917 to 1948. Each of these programs will be followed by a panel discussion with British, Israeli and Palestinian academics, film historians and journalists. Archive shorts from the British Mandate period will also be screened before each feature film in the festival. Price was quoted as saying the festival was "an opportunity to bring to the forefront the British Mandate's role in the nakba and establishment of the State of Israel." Whether the news of Price's contribution thrills, disgusts, angers or bores you, don't ignore the rest of the this year's festival because of her. Since 2001, the British Council and the cinematheques have put together excellent programs of the best of current British cinema, plus a selection of classics, animated films and shorts. Sarah Gavron, the director of Brick Lane, the feature film adaptation of Monica Ali's critically acclaimed novel about Bangladeshi immigrants to London, will attend the festival and will be present at screenings, along with Christopher Simpson, its lead actor. Other guests include Will Jewell, director of South Coast, a documentary on British hip hop; Greg Loftin, writer/director of Saxon, a violent and suspenseful look at an ex-con who becomes a detective; Elise Valmorbida, the producer of Saxon; Tom Tyrwhitt, director of Hush Your Mouth, a story about the troubled teen brother of a man killed for his political convictions; and Angeli McFarlane and Valery Ryan, who will run a workshop on script editing. The festival will open with the Israeli premiere of Joe Wright's Atonement, an adaptation of the novel by Ian McEwan which has received a number of Golden Globe nominations. It stars Keira Knightley as Cecilia, the pampered daughter of a WWII industrialist who falls passionately in love with the son of the family's cook, Robbie (James McAvoy). Tragedy strikes when her sister accuses Robbie of a crime he didn't commit and he is sent to prison on the eve of World War II. Eventually, Robbie becomes a soldier and Cecilia a nurse as they are separated by war. Hallam Foe, directed by David Mackenzie, stars Jamie Bell, Sophia Myles and Ciarán Hinds in one of the director's characteristically dark looks at a troubled loner. The latest film by acclaimed director Nick Broomfield (Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer) will be shown at the festival. Battle for Haditha is a fact-based feature film about an investigation of the massacre of 24 men, women and children in Haditha, Iraq allegedly shot by four US Marines in retaliation for the death of a U.S. Marine killed by a roadside bomb. The band, Joy Division, is the subject of two films in the festival, one a documentary and one a feature. Anton Corbjin's Control is a fictionalized look at the life and death of lead singer Ian Curtis from his school days to his suicide on the eve of the band's first American tour, based on the book by Curtis' widow. Corbjin will be present at the Tel Aviv screening. Grant Gee's Joy Division: The Last True Story in Pop is a documentary look at the band. Oliver Hodge's Garbage Warrior is a documentary that tackles the super-trendy subject of a house that recycles waste and otherwise completely sustains itself. A tribute to the Ealing Studios features some of the most charming and original films made there, including Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Ladykillers, both starring Alec Guinness, and Passport to Pimlico. A retrospective devoted to the work of Shane Meadows showcases his latest film, This is England, the story of a boy who becomes a skinhead, and Dead Man's Shoes, about a soldier who returns to his hometown, seeking revenge on a group of local thugs, possibly earning the dubious honor of being the most depressing movie ever made. Festival details can be found at www.britishcouncil.org/israel-british-film-festival-2008.htm