Down Under film fest goes all out

'The Black Balloon,' about a teen taking care of his autistic brother, opens the festival in Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Black Balloon film 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Black Balloon film 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Sixth Australian Israel Film Festival, sponsored by AICE, the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange, opens on June 21 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque with Tackling Peace, a documentary of special interest to Israelis. The festival runs through July 5th at the Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa Cinematheques. Tackling Peace is about a joint Israeli/Palestinian team that was established to enter the 2008 AFL (Australian Rules) International Cup soccer competition, which was held in Victoria, Australia, last August. The team - a collaboration between the Peres Center for Peace and the Al-Quds Association for Democracy and Dialogue - was coached by Australian legend Kevin Sheehan. The documentary chronicles this competition, which gave Israelis and Palestinians a rare chance to break down barriers and work toward a common goal. At the Haifa and Tel Aviv Cinematheques, the festival opens with the critically acclaimed drama The Black Balloon. It tells the story of a teenage boy who is forced to take care of his autistic brother when his mother has to rest during a difficult pregnancy. The mother is played by the celebrated Australian actress Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine, The Sixth Sense). The film won dozens of awards, including the Crystal Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and six Australian Film Institute Awards, including Best Film. Another much-anticipated film is an adaptation of the J.M. Coetzee novel, Disgrace, an Australian/South African coproduction. It stars John Malkovich as a professor forced to leave his job after an allegation of sexual harassment is made against him. He goes to live with his daughter in a rural area, where they are the victims of a savage attack that teaches the professor that the South Africa where he once felt at home is gone for good. The other films feature the wide range of settings and subjects that have become the trademark of Australian cinema in recent years. They include Three Blind Mice, the story of three Australian naval officers on shore leave in Sydney before being shipped out to Iraq; Son of a Lion, about an 11-year-old Afghan refugee living in Pakistan who wants to get an education; Kokoda, a World War II drama about a platoon of Australian recruits, trapped by the Japanese in an isolated part of New Guinea; and The Oasis, a documentary about a shelter for street kids in inner-city Sydney. The festival is part of the G'Day Shalom Salaam Festival run by AICE, which features jazz and classical music as well as films.