A festival of firsts

Several local and international movies will premiere at the Haifa film festival.

ABOUT TIME,  Richard Curtis’s latest film writer/ director (photo credit: Courtesy)
ABOUT TIME, Richard Curtis’s latest film writer/ director
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The 29th Haifa International Film Festival, which runs from September 19 to 28 at the Haifa Cinematheque and other venues around the city, features the very best of recent international and Israeli cinema, and illustrates how the two have become inextricably linked.
The opening feature is Ari Folman’s The Congress, the longawaited follow-up to his highly praised, award-winning feature Waltz with Bashir. Like that film, The Congress combines animation with live action; but unlike Bashir, it is an international production, with a very different focus. Bashir was a documentary about soldiers’ reflections on the First Lebanon War, but The Congress is based on a science-fiction novel, The Futurological Congress, by Polish author Stanislaw Lem.
The Congress stars Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel and Jon Hamm in a trippy allegory about an actress – Robin Wright, playing herself – who allows her entire being to be subsumed into a digital version that never ages. The film, which played at Cannes, is having its Israeli premiere at the Haifa festival. While most of the liveaction scenes were filmed abroad, the animated sections were created by an Israeli animation lab, so it is truly a rare and seamless blending of the Israeli and international film industries.
The closing-night film, Gravity, is also science fiction. It stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts who are left adrift after an accident on a spacewalk destroys their space shuttle. It was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, known for his Spanish-language movies such as Y Tu Mama Tambien and big-budget hits including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
As always, there will be a number of special events, including a meeting with acclaimed British filmmaker Peter Greenaway, who will present 35 of his short films – in a program called Short and Sweet.
Greenaway, who has been a guest at the Haifa Film Festival in past years, is known for his arthouse favorites such as The Tulse Luper Suitcases.
There will be a number of gala screenings of new movies that promise to be lots of fun. Writer/ director Richard Curtis is known for such crowd-pleasing hits as Love Actually and Pirate Radio. His latest film, About Time, stars Rachel McAdams, Domhnall Gleeson and Bill Nighy (who may be England’sfunniest character actor) in a time-travel comedydrama.
Indie king Jim Jarmusch jumps aboard the vampire bandwagon with his new film Only Lovers Left Alive, about a rock musician, his lover for more than a century and her little sister. It stars Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton and Mia Wasikowska.
The latest films by Michael Winterbottom (The Look of Love) and Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) are also being screened in the Gala program.
While the Israeli competition is eagerly awaited, the Haifa International Film Festival also features the Golden Anchor Competition for films made in countries around the Mediterranean Basin.
This year, there are films from countries such as Italy, France, Spain and Turkey. Among the films being shown are the acclaimed master director Ettore Scola’s How Strange to Be Called Federico! It is a homage to his friend and colleague, the late Federico Fellini. It’s a hybrid of genres that combines archival footage with reenacted sequences of Scola’s memories of Fellini.
Isabelle Huppert stars in Marco Bellocchio’s Dormant Beauty, a fact-based drama about the difficult decision to end the life of a comatose woman.
One documentary highlight of the festival for lovers of American literature will be the film Salinger. Directed by Shane Salerno, it examines the life of J.D. Salinger, author of the cult classic The Catcher in the Rye and other works. He stopped publishing in 1965 and was a recluse until his death in 2010. It is especially topical now, since apparently he wrote several works that may or may not finally be published.
For more information about the festival and to order tickets, go to the festival website at www.haifaff.co.il