Lia van Leer, the founder of the Jerusalem Film Festival, who passed away last March, structured the event so that it would bring much-needed attention to Israeli filmmakers, and this year’s festival will continue that tradition.
The 32nd Jerusalem Film Festival will take place from July 9-19 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, and the Israeli film competitions will be front and center.
Many of Israel’s high-profile directors premiered their earliest works at the Jerusalem Film Festival, and because of that the Israeli competitions are one of the most buzzed-about parts of the festival.
Six movies are competing in the Haggiag Awards for Israeli Cinema, the feature film contest.
Tova Asher is one of Israel’s most in-demand film editors, and now she is making her feature-film debut with A.K.A. Nadia. The movie is a drama about a married mother of two who has lived her entire adult life as a Jewish woman in Tel Aviv. But when a figure from her past shows up out of the blue, it turns out she was actually born and raised as a Muslim Arab. It stars Netta Shpigelman, Ali Suliman (The Kingdom, Lemon Tree) and John Hurt.
Israeli-Palestinian relations are also at the center of Hadar Morag’s Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?, which is about a Palestinian collaborator living in Tel Aviv who forms a friendship with a rebellious young Israeli.
Yael Grobglas, who stars on the hit US series Jane the Virgin, appears in the movie Jeruzalem.
The film, directed by the brothers Doron and Yoav Paz, is billed as a work in progress, but it will be shown at the festival and will be quite a change of pace from the usual fare. A horror film, it tells the story of two American students in Jerusalem who find themselves in the middle of a “biblical apocalypse.”
Like the sci-fi film Cloverfield, the film is presented as a series of video clips shot by the protagonists.
Evgeny Ruman, who directed Igor & the Cranes’ Journey, has a new film in the competition: The Man in the Wall. A psychological thriller, it takes place in a woman’s Tel Aviv apartment after her husband disappears while walking their dog.
Avishai Sivan’s first film, The Wanderer, debuted at Cannes, and now his next feature, Tikkun, is premiering at the festival. Like The Wanderer, Tikkun is set in an ultra-Orthodox community. It tells the story of a young yeshiva student who has a near-death experience and loses his faith, which affects his relationship with his father.
Moran Rosenblatt, a rising young Israeli star, has the lead in Nitzan Gilady’s Wedding Doll. She plays a mentally disabled woman who works in a factory and has a relationship with the son of the owner, which she hides from her devoted mother.
Most of the pre-festival publicity has revolved around the documentary Beyond the Fear, directed by Herz Frank and Maria Kravchenko, which is about Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, and his marriage while in prison. Like virtually everyone weighing in on this issue, I have not seen the film, but Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev tried to prevent it being shown in the festival on the grounds that a movie about a political murderer would somehow reflect badly on Israel. This objection boggles the mind and invites a host of questions: Do movies about Lee Harvey Oswald make America look bad? Are movies in the festival to be chosen for their publicity value, as decided by the current government? Does Regev not understand that by trying to ban this movie, she has made it a must-see for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people, whereas if she had done nothing, it would simply have been one documentary among many? In any case, the movie will be shown, and will be among the movies taking part in the Van Leer Award for Israeli Films – Documentary Category.
The other movies in the competition include Silvina Landsmann’s Hotline, about a hotline that helps migrants and refugees in Tel Aviv; Tomer Heymann’s Mr. Gaga, about Ohad Naharin, the renowned choreographer and artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company; Badran Badran’s Pennies, about Palestinian children who beg to help their families; Nirit Aharoni’s Strung Out, on women drug addicts; Ido Haar’s Thru You Princess, the story of an Israeli man who gets to know a New Orleans singer via the Internet; and Ada Ushpiz’s Vita Activa, The Spirit of Hannah Arendt, about the author and philosopher.
Two episodes of the television documentary Hagiga, about the development of the Israeli film industry, will also be shown, out of competition.
One director with a familiar surname in the Student Competition is Tom Nesher, the daughter of director Avi Nesher. Her short, Albi and Alma, is the sweet story of a two teenage friends, a gay guy and a straight girl, who go out thinking they are looking for sex and find love instead. Based on this film, it’s no exaggeration to dub the Neshers the Coppolas of Israel (both Francis Ford Coppola and his daughter, Sofia, are Oscar-winning filmmakers).
To find out more about the festival and to order tickets, go to the website at http://www.jff.org.il/.