Accolades falling on Cedar

American-born Joseph Cedar wins Israel's first-ever Best Director Award at Berlin Film Festival.

joseph cedar 88 298 (photo credit: AP)
joseph cedar 88 298
(photo credit: AP)
On Saturday night at the awards ceremony of the Berlin International Film Festival, Joseph Cedar won the Silver Bear award for Best Director for his Lebanon War drama, Beaufort. Cedar is the first Israeli director to win the Best Director Award at Berlin, one of the world's most prestigious festivals. Said Cedar just after the ceremony, "I still haven't found the words to describe the feeling, it's not part of life, it feels completely disconnected, and yet - I'm in heaven." The movie, based on the Sapir-Prize winning novel by Ron Leshem, If There is a Heaven, details the final days of the last Israeli unit to be evacuated from the Beaufort Castle in Lebanon in 2000. Leshem collaborated with Cedar on the screenplay "It's obvious we're against war and it's horrible," said Cedar. "Hopefully this film will give insight into the specific nature of how absurd combat and war is." Beaufort is set to open throughout Israel on March 8. It had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. Israeli films have often been shown at Berlin in recent years, but it has been a long while since an Israeli film was shown in the main competition. Beaufort faced stiff competition from some well-known directors, including Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima and Andre Techine's The Witnesses. The president of the festival jury this year, writer/director Paul Schrader, best known for his screenplay for Taxi Driver, visited Israel last summer to announce his plan to direct Adam Resurrected in Israel, based on Yoram Kaniuk's novel. Jury members included Israeli-Arab actress director Hiam Abbass (The Syrian Bride, Paradise Now) and actor Willem Dafoe, who was a guest of the Haifa International Film Festival in 2005. Another Israeli film triumphed at Berlin this year, Dror Shaul's Sweet Mud, which won the Crystal Bear, the first prize in the Berlin International Film Festival's Generation section for films about children and teens. Last month, Sweet Mud was awarded the top prize in the World Cinema Competition at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, another unprecedented victory for an Israeli film. Sweet Mud, the story of a boy growing up on a kibbutz and struggling to protect his mentally ill mother, also won the Ophir Award, Israel's prize for the Best Picture, last fall. Eytan Fox's The Bubble, the story of a romantic relationship between two men, one Jewish and one Palestinian, won the International Confederation of Art House Cinemas Award and the Siegessaule Readers' jury award. It was shown in the Panorama Section. Beaufort producers David Mandil and David Zilber said in a statement: "This is an exciting and blessed moment, it proves that Israeli cinema has won a new place in the world, especially after the chain of victories at this last festival." The American-born Cedar, 38, moved to Jerusalem as a child. His previous film, Campfire, the story of a widow and her two daughters who plan to move to a West Bank settlement, was awarded a special mention at the Berlin Film Festival in 2004 and also won the Ophir Award. His first feature film, Time of Favor (Ha Hesder), a look at religious soldiers drawn into a right-wing, anti-Arab terror movement, won the Ophir Prize in 2000. Cedar is the rare Israeli filmmaker who is religiously observant, although Beaufort does not highlight religious issues. Cedar himself served in Lebanon as a paratrooper and medic in the late Eighties. He lost several friends in the fighting. Cedar completed filming Beaufort about a month before the second Lebanon War broke out this past summer. The film stars Oshri Cohen (Bonjour, Monsieur Shlomi, Campfire and the television series, Our Song), Eli Eltonyo (Beitar Provence, Our Song), Itay Turgeman (Aviva My Love, Beitar Provence), Ohad Knoller (The Bubble, which was shown out of competition in the Panorama Section of Berlin this year), Itay Turan (who starred in the movie Forgiveness and has played Hamlet on stage), and veteran Israeli actor Alon Aboutboul (Nina's Tragedies). Other films that took top prizes at Berlin this year included the Chinese film, Tuya's Marriage, directed by Wang Quan'an, which won the Golden Bear, the festival's top award. It concerns how the modernization of China has affected traditional shepherds and was filmed in Mongolia. Ariel Rotter's The Other, an Argentinean film about a middle-aged man who suffers a midlife crisis when his girlfriend gets pregnant, took the Silver Bear, or Grand Jury Prize. Julio Chavez, the film's star, won the Silver Bear for Best Actor. Nina Hoss won the Silver Bear for Best Actress for Yella, the story of an East German woman who flees to the West but finds herself haunted by her past. The trailer for Beaufort can be viewed at the film's Website at