Eyes on the Prize

The Ophirs were awarded in Jerusalem, while the Film Festival wrapped up in Haifa.

Haifa Film Fesitval 311 (photo credit: Gustavo Hochman)
Haifa Film Fesitval 311
(photo credit: Gustavo Hochman)
The focus of the Israeli movie industry seems to be moving North and East at this time of year, as the 26th Haifa International Film Festival, which just ended yesterday, played to packed crowds, and the Ophir Awards were handed out in Jerusalem for the first time ever last week. While most industry insiders live in Tel Aviv, these last few weeks they’ve been out and about.
There is more than a little overlap between the two events, as several movies nominated for Ophir Awards that hadn’t opened yet had their official premieres at Haifa. The most notable of these was Eran Riklis’s The Human Resources Manager, which opens next week and which received an enthusiastic reception from the packed Auditorium Theater at the Haifa Cinematheque. Novelist A. B. Yehoshua, a Haifa native who wrote the book on which the film was based, spoke before the film about its theme – Israelis and their relation to foreigners here and abroad.
At the Ophirs, The Human Resources Manager won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay (by Noah Stollman), and Best Supporting Actress (Rosina Kambus). This was a triumph for Riklis, whose previous two films, The Syrian Bride and Lemon Tree, did not even receive Best Picture nominations in spite of winning great critical acclaim at home and abroad.
The Israel Academy of Film, the body that awards the Ophirs, has had a pattern of ignoring some of Israel’s strongest directors, particularly those whose films are extremely successful.But this year, that pattern has been broken. Avi Nesher, whose debut film The Troupe (1979) has become a classic, got his first Best Picture nomination for his latest film, The Matchmaker (originally called Once I Was in English). However, the film was not nominated for Best Director or Best Screenplay. Some actors in his previous films, Turn Left at the End of the World and The Secrets, were nominated for Ophir Awards in past years, but it was a surprise when the two leads in The Matchmaker – Adir Miller (who did not even attend the ceremony) and Maya Dagan – actually won the Best Actor and Best Actress Awards for which they were nominated.
The Supporting Actor prize went to Michael Moshonov (son of actor Moni Moshonov) for his performance as an autistic teenager in The Flood, another film that had its premiere at Haifa.
Ronit Elkabetz, the actress who starred in The Flood (and who was nominated for a Best Actress Ophir but lost to Dagan), won an award for her contribution to Israeli cinema, which she accepted at the opening ceremony.
A highlight of the festival was the soldout screening of French director Julie Bertucelli’s moving film The Tree. The film, about an Australian family coping with the father’s death, just opened in theaters throughout Israel. Bertucelli attended the festival, with her Israeli/French producer, Yael Fogiel.
Paul Giamatti, the veteran character actor famous for his quirky performances in Sideways and American Splendor, stars in Barney’s Version, a Canadian film premiering at the festival. At press time, the arrival of this star in Haifa was eagerly awaited.
A number of new Israeli movies are premiering at Haifa, including the latest film by Haim Bouzaglo, Blank Bullet, a thriller about the Israeli Secret Service, and documentary director Dani Menkin’s first feature, Je t’aime I Love You Terminal, a romance. Eitan Tzur’s love triangle, Naomi, which was shown at the Venice Film Festival, drew criticism here for its conventional storyline.
The awards at the Haifa festival had not yet been announced at press time.But whatever gets the award here, it’s the winner of the Ophir Award that is Israel’s official selection to be considered for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. So The Human Resources Manager will be in the difficult position of trying to win Israel’s fourth consecutive nomination in this category. No country has pulled off this feat since France in the late 1970s. It’s possible that come January, Israel will be on the final list of the five nominees for foreign language Oscar, but as with all prizes, it’s not a sure bet. Even with such strong nominees as Beaufort, Waltz with Bashir and Ajami, that Oscar gold has never yet gone to a blue-and-white film.