Filmmakers flock to Eilat's Film Fest

Argentinean screenwriter and director, Mercedes Farriols, takes best film award.

eilat tourism 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post [file])
eilat tourism 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post [file])
Organizers called it a wrap Saturday night at the Eilat International Film Festival, handing out awards to five of the 62 films screened during the four-day event. Olga, Victoria, Olga, a lyrical cross-generational drama by first-time Argentinean screenwriter and director Mercedes Farriols, was named the festival's best film, beating out entries including a big budget US drama about the Iraq war and the 2007 Oscar winner for best short film. Farriols, who flew to the festival from Buenos Aires, thanked her Eilat hosts in Spanish, telling audience members she'd been inspired for her next project by her brief visit to Israel and the day she spent with other festival filmmakers in Petra, Jordan. The writer of 17 books and a number of successful Argentinean TV programs, Farriols requested that her acceptance speech be translated into Hebrew by Pola Zen, a Tel Aviv University film graduate who immigrated to Israel from Mexico eight years ago. Zen's own film, a short family drama entitled Dolls and Houses, drew a warm response at the festival's student film screenings, but ultimately lost the award for best student film to Tolya, a nine-minute piece directed in Russian by Rodeon Brodsky, another immigrant to Israel. All the more touching because of its simplicity, the film tells the short story a foreign worker in Israel whose teeth are so bad he's unable to communicate in a traditional way over the phone with his wife. The award for the film, decided unanimously by the judges panel, was accepted by Eddie Tapero, one of Tolya's producers and a student at Jerusalem's Sam Spiegel Film and Television School. Winning its sixth award at an international film festival was the Eilat judges' choice for best foreign film - Mexican writer/director's To the Other Side, a drama in Spanish and Arabic dealing with the lives of child immigrants from Spain, Morocco and Cuba. The panel named another immigrant story the festival's best Israeli film, giving the prize to Children of the USSR, Felix Gerchikov's drama about a group of Russian immigrants in Israel who form their own soccer team as they struggle to find their way in their new country. Adjusting to change proved a winning topic in the festival's final category as well, with a panel of elementary school students from Eilat giving the children's film prize to Rudy: The Return of the Racing Pig, a German entry about a nine-year-old who convinces his father to allow the titular farm animal a place in their home as the young boy works to accept his father's new girlfriend. THOUGH STILL small, even in comparison to other Israeli film competitions, the Eilat film festival has grown rapidly in its first five years and will continue to do so when it returns to the southern resort town in 2008. Honorees at this year's festival included Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda star Valerie Harper, who attended a screening of Golda's Balcony, the screen adaptation of the Broadway play in which she stars as Golda Meir; Ari Sandel, a 32-year-old Los Angeles filmmaker who won an Oscar this year for West Bank Story, a satirical short film about the Israeli Palestinian conflict; and Avi Lerner and Danny Dimbort, Israeli filmmakers responsible for an average of 16 or 17 Hollywood productions per year, with recent efforts including dramas starring stars like Scarlett Johannson, John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson. (Lerner, who got his filmmaking start in Israel, also served as manager of the country's first drive-in theater, festival organizers noted.) Next year's festival will expand both in scale and geography, with Eilat Film Fest organizers announcing Sunday the creation of the Hope and Harmony Project, a cinematic peace initiative that will take place during the festival not far from where Israel and Jordan signed their historic peace treaty in 1994. Announced in the presence of Ali Maher, a visiting official of Jordan's Royal Film Commission, the project will take place in a movie theater-size tent near Eilat, where Israelis and Jordanians will be able to come together during the festival to watch new films and participate in other shared cultural activities.