Blue and white on the silver screen

At home and abroad, Israeli films will be making a fine showing this year

Ari Folman recieves the Cesar Award for Best Foreign Film  (photo credit: Reuters/Benoit Tessier)
Ari Folman recieves the Cesar Award for Best Foreign Film
(photo credit: Reuters/Benoit Tessier)
Banner years in the film world are often followed by quieter ones, but 2012 promises to be an interesting year for Israeli cinema.
On the international film scene, the first big event of the year is always the Sundance Film Festival, which runs from January 19-29. Sundance was founded by Robert Redford to showcase the best in independent cinema from around the world, but it has come under fire in recent years for having become too commercial. Veteran journalists like to reminisce about how small and intimate it was at first and how they used to get together and shoot pool with Bob (Redford) in the early years.
But commercialized or not, it is still one of the major world festivals, and Israeli movies have done well there. Last year, Yossi Madmony’s Restoration won the Best Screenplay Prize in the World Drama competition, and in 2007 Dror Shaul’s Sweet Mud was awarded the Grand Jury Prize. This year, there will be three Israeli documentaries in competition: 5 Broken Cameras, directed by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi; The Law in These Parts directed by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz; and Gypsy Davy, directed by Rachel Leah Jones. The first film is the chronicle of a Palestinian village’s resistance to the separation fence; The Law in These Parts is about the way Israel administers the West Bank; and Gypsy Davy is directed by an Israeli but tells the story of an American young man who became a flamenco guitarist.
The next major international festivals are Berlin in February and Cannes in May, but the lineups for these have not yet been announced and it’s too early to know which Israeli films may compete in them.
Israeli films have done quite well at the increasingly important Tribeca Film Festival, held in New York in the spring, as well as the Karlovy Vary Festival in the Czech Republic in the summer, and at the Toronto and Venice film festivals in early autumn.
In terms of film festivals here that feature Israeli films, this is a relatively quiet period until DocAviv, the international documentary film festival in Tel Aviv, which will take place from May 3-12. Also in May is the Cinema of the South Festival in Sderot. It’s followed by the two biggest events on the Israeli film calendar – the Jerusalem International Film Festival in early July and the Haifa International Film Festival in early autumn.
What are Israel’s top directors up to? Eytan Fox is probably the next prominent Israeli who will release a film. He is busy editing Yossi’s Story, a sequel to his acclaimed 2002 film Yossi & Jagger, which tells the story of two gay soldiers in the IDF. Ohad Knoller reprises his role as Yossi. He will be joined by veteran actor Lior Ashkenazi (who starred in Fox’s Walk on Water) and rising star Oz Zehavi, who is best known for his part on the TV series Asfur and appeared in the film Infiltration. Orly Silbersatz co-stars as Jagger’s mother.
Several top directors made films in 2010 and 2011 and have not yet completed their follow-up films. Avi Nesher’s The Matchmaker is set to be released in the US in February, and Joseph Cedar’s Footnote will open in America in March.
Nesher’s next film will be shot abroad and is titled, appropriately, In a Strange Land. He has written an adaptation of Nathaca Appanah’s novel The Last Brother, which tells the little-known story of a group of Jews imprisoned by the British in Mauritius during World War II. With a budget of $8 million, it will star French actress Emmanuelle Béart. Actors Tim Roth and Guy Pearce reportedly liked the script, and one of them may play the male lead. It is being produced by Jean-Pierre Ramsey-Levi (Total Eclipse) and is set to start shooting in South Africa in the fall.
If you’ve been waiting for the release of Ari Folman’s The Congress, his first film after the huge success of his animated documentary Waltz with Bashir (2008), you’ll have to wait a little longer. The Congress, which stars Robin Wright and Harvey Keitel and is based on a science-fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem, is in post-production but won’t be released until 2013. Sources describe it as 60 percent live action and 40 percent animation. But if it’s anything like Bashir, it should be worth the wait.