An ever-expanding audience

Israeli movies are gaining popularity in the international film festival world.

Amos Gitai and Yael Abecassis 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Hadas Shapira)
Amos Gitai and Yael Abecassis 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Hadas Shapira)
When it comes to movies this year, Jerusalem’s loss was clearly Venice’s gain. As Israeli films continue gaining an international audience, they are being featured at international festivals more than ever before. This year, organizers of the 69th Venice International Film Festival made director Rama Burshtein choose between premiering her film Fill the Void at Venice in September in the main competition or at the Jerusalem Film Festival in July in the Israeli Feature Film Competition.
Burshtein’s film is a look at an ultra- Orthodox community in Tel Aviv. What makes it very unusual is that Burshtein herself is haredi. A graduate of one of the first classes at the Sam Spiegel School for Film and Television, she became ultra-Orthodox after her studies. In recent years, she became frustrated with onscreen portrayals of her community and decided to make her own film.
The international film festival world operates by a set of constantly changing, often counter-intuitive, rules. Certain festivals require all entries to be world premieres, others do not. The organizers of the Venice Film Festival had no problem when Shmuelik Maoz’s movie Lebanon, which had been screened at the 2009 Jerusalem Film Festival, competed at Venice. It went on to win the Golden Lion there, and Maoz was invited to meet the Pope at the Vatican. This year, however, Burshtein given the choice between Jerusalem and Venice, understandably chose the latter, which is one of the oldest, largest and most prestigious film festivals in the world. The staff of the Jerusalem Film Festival were torn between feeling miffed that they lost the chance to present an intriguing film, and flattered that they were considered competition by Venice. We in Israel won’t get a look at the film until early October, when it is shown at the Haifa International Film Festival.
Due to this decision by the Venice organizers, Idan Hubel’s The Cut-Off Man, starring Moshe Ivgy, was also pulled out of the lineup at the Jerusalem Film Festival. It tells the story of a representative of the water company who cuts off water when clients don’t pay their bills. It was shown in the Horizons section at Venice.
The Venice Film Festival, which concluded on September 8, also featured Amir Manor’s Epilogue (also known as Hayuta and Berl), a drama about an elderly couple, which was shown in the Venice Days section. To make things more confusing, this film was shown at the Jerusalem Film Festival this summer.
Actress Hiam Abbass’s feature film debut, The Inheritance, about a conflict within a Muslim family in the Galilee, was also in the Venice Days section. Abbass is best known to audiences for her performances in two films directed by Eran Ricklis – The Syrian Bride and Lemon Tree. She has also starred in international films, including the Oscar-nominated The Visitor.
Water, a collection of short films by Israeli and Palestinians, produced by the Tel Aviv University School of Film and Television, opened the Critics’ Week.
Lullaby for My Father, the latest film by Amos Gitai, the director who is far more celebrated abroad than in Israel, was shown in Venice out of competition. The film stars Yael Abecassis.
Israeli films will be just as prominent at the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs from September 6-16. Fill the Void will be shown there as well, along with 10 other Israeli films.
Israeli director Eran Ricklis’s latest film, Zaytoun, stars Stephen Dorff as an Israeli fighter pilot shot down over Lebanon who must make his way back to Israel with a young Palestinian boy. Like Ricklis’s last film, Playoff, a large part of its dialogue is in English.
Among the Toronto festival’s Israeli films that are the most buzzed about is Out in the Dark. Michael Mayer’s feature debut mixes political intrigue and a love story between two men.
Yevgeny Roman’s Igor and the Cranes’ Journey, starring Menashe Noy, tells the story of a 14-year-old boy who moves from Moscow to Israel with his mother. His father, a bird researcher from whom Igor has been estranged for years, stays behind in Russia. Father and son begin following the migration of a flock of cranes via the Internet.
Israeli documentaries screened at the Toronto Film Festival include Dror Moreh’s The Gatekeepers, which is about six former heads of the Shin Bet, and Dan Setton’s State 194 about the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. And a novel by David Grossman has been adapted into the film Nono, the Zig Zag Kid by Belgian director Vincent Bal.
The next big film festival to come along, the New York Film Festival, which runs from September 28 to October 14, includes just 33 films in its main section, but two of them are from Israel – Fill the Void and The Gatekeepers. When two Israeli films made the cut last year at the New York Film Festival, I thought it was a fluke. Now that it’s happened twice, it’s a tradition – and one that I hope will continue.