Jerusalem Film Festival.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
“It’s a lot of joy and a lot of sorrow,” said Salim Daw, the star of Avanti Popolo, on seeing a digitally restored version of the 1986 Israeli classic for the first time, when it was shown at the Jerusalem Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on July 12. The restoration and screening marked the 30th anniversary of the film’s original premiere at the Jerusalem Film Festival.
His joy came from seeing the movie take on a new life in this restored form.
“It’s amazing, I feel as if we just finished shooting it,” said Daw, who gave one of the greatest performances in the history of Israeli cinema in the movie, playing an Egyptian actor fighting in the Six Day War who gets trapped behind Israeli lines on the last day of the conflict. The ground-breaking movie showed Egyptian soldiers (Suhel Haddad co-starred as Daw’s more down-to-earth counterpart) as scared, resourceful, flawed, funny and very appealing characters.
The sorrow, Daw explained, came from the fact that “they’re not here to see it,” referring to the film’s director, Rafi Bukai, who died at the age of 46 in 2003, and producer, Micha Shagrir, who passed away in 2015.
The restored copy of the movie was produced with the assistance of the Ostrovsky Family Fund, the Israeli Film Fund, the Micha Shagrir Collection and the Austrian Hospice, through the initiative of the Jerusalem Film Festival and the Israeli Film Archive. The restoration was performed by Realworks Studios, and the movie is now being distributed and promoted by Ruth Diskin Films.
The restoration is part of a project to preserve and make available the work of legendary producer/director Micha Shagrir.
You can find out more about the Micha Shagrir Collection, an online archive, at the website shagrircollection.com It features information, not only about Avanti Popolo but all of Shagrir’s films, which include The Scouting Patrol, The War After the War, Diary of an Egyptian Soldier and A Matter of Size.
Shagrir was also instrumental in founding the Sam Spiegel School for Film and Television, Jerusalem.
Noa Regev, the executive director of the film festival, spoke at the screening, explaining how the film became “an Israeli and international classic,” and said that “its value keeps increasing.” Israel Film Archive manager Meir Russo told the packed auditorium about how the movie could now be shown in theaters and films schools, in its new digital form. Many others spoke at the festive screening, among them Rose Ostrovsky of the Ostrovsky Family Fund, David Lipkind of the Israeli Cinema Foundation, and Ruth Diskin. Many members of the original cast and crew were also present.
One of the most moving speakers was Bukai’s teen son, Guy, who was just two when his father died. He said that he had always tried to “build memories from others’ memories” of his father, but that “the memories are getting a new life” with the restoration of Avanti Popolo.
Several short films were played (which are available on the Shagrir website) about the making of the original film and how the restoration was done.
Daw teared up as he spoke about the late director, saying, “Rafi, you are missed so much, not just by me but by Israeli cinema.”
Daw called Avanti Popolo the highlight of his career, and said that no matter what he has done since, people compliment him on his latest work, but “then they sigh and say, ‘...but Avanti Popolo.’ It doesn’t insult me... [Rafi], I love you so much.”
In a clip from the Making Of short, Bukai said, “I didn’t care if the characters were Egyptian, Israeli, French or Burmese soldiers.
I just wanted them to be human beings.”
There are plans to release Avanti Popolo in theaters again, although no date has been set yet.