Israeli films to play at Toronto, Venice film festivals

Toronto will feature the world premiere of Natalie Portman’s latest movie, as well.

August 19, 2019 04:33
2 minute read.
Israeli films to play at Toronto, Venice film festivals

Synonyms by Nadav Lapid, which will be shown at the Toronto International Film Festival. (photo credit: GUY FERRANDIS/SBS FILMS)

Two of the biggest film festivals in the world, Venice and Toronto, have just closed their lineups for the 2019 slates, and a number of Israeli films will be taking part.

At the 44th Toronto International Film Festival – the largest film festival in North America – taking place from September 5-15, there will be three Israeli films in the Contemporary World Film Festival section.

These are Incitement by Yaron Zilberman – a film that has generated a great deal of buzz – about Yigal Amir, the assassin who killed former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995; Keren Yedaya’s Red Fields, a new adaptation of the satirical rock opera, Mami – with songs by Ehud Banai, Hillel Mittelpunkt and Yossi Mar Haim, reworked by Dudu Tassa – which premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival last month; and Synonyms, Nadav Lapid’s mostly French-language movie about an alienated Israeli in Paris that won the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.

Oren Gerner’s Africa will compete in the Discovery section for emerging filmmakers. It tells the story of his father and how he copes with age and illness.

Toronto will also feature the world premiere of Natalie Portman’s latest movie, Lucy in the Sky, about an obsessive astronaut (Portman) and the men in her life, played by Dan Stevens and Jon Hamm. It is the feature-film debut of Noah Hawley, creator and writer of the successful television series Legion and Fargo.

There are usually several Israeli films at Toronto, so this year’s crop of films is about average. But it is unusual that in this year’s Venice International Film Festival – the oldest and one of the largest and most prestigious film festivals in Europe – taking place from August 28-September 7, only two films by Israelis are showing, and not in the most important sections.

Keren Ben Rafael’s The End of Love is in the Biennale College Cinema section and is listed as being from France, not Israel, despite starring a number of Israeli actors, including Joy Rieger. Ben Rafael’s previous film, Virgins, which was definitely an Israeli film, won the Best Actress Award for Rieger at the Tribeca Film Festival last year.

There is also a short film, Battle Hymn, by Yair Agmon in the Venice Virtual Reality section.

During the last two decades, Israeli films have done very well at Venice. Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon won the Golden Lion there a decade ago, and many other Israeli films have won important awards and gotten great audience response, including lengthy standing ovations.

Those who monitor the Israeli film industry closely have been speculating that the often cyclical industry is currently in a down period, and various explanations have been given for this. Some think that it’s because many talented Israelis – such as Guy Nattiv, who won an Oscar this year for his short film Skin – have been choosing to work abroad. Others feel that in recent years, the Israel Film Fund has handed out small amounts of money to far too many weak films, diluting what is available for the stronger ones.

Whatever the reason, Israeli films tend to acquire international distributors at these festivals. When Israeli films don’t take part in a key festival like Venice, it means that fewer Israeli films will be seen abroad.

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