It's a wrap

Another Jerusalem Film Festival comes to close, with a slew of celluloid must-sees in its wake.

child 521 (photo credit: Courtesy/JFF)
child 521
(photo credit: Courtesy/JFF)
Although there were dozens of distinguished international guests at the recently concluded 28th Jerusalem Film Festival, the buzz was mostly about the Israeli films, as it has been so often in recent years. Some of the top Israeli films of the last decade had their premieres at this festival, including Lebanon and Ajami (in 2009), The Band’s Visit (2007) and Or, Atash, The Syrian Bride, Campfire and Ushpizin (all 2004).
This year, there were an astonishing 11 feature films competing for the Haggiag Award for Best Israeli Film. The top award eventually went to Joseph Madmony’s Restoration (actually a much better title than its clunky name in Hebrew, Boker Tov, Adon Fiedelman), which had already won the Best Screenplay Prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year.
But this heavily symbolic film did not take one of the festival’s other important honors, the first Audience Award given at the Jerusalem Festival. That distinction, to no one’s surprise, went to the much buzzed about My Australia, Ami Drozd’s film about two Polish kids in the 1960s who have no idea they are Jewish until their mother brings them to Israel. The younger lead in that film, Jakub Wroblewski, gives one of the best performances by a child actor I have ever seen and ought to have won the Best Actor Award at the festival hands down.
Unfortunately, Wroblewski did not attend the festival (and the prize went to Gur Bentwich for his touching performance as an unconventional father in Off-White Lies). But My Australia was certainly my favorite of the films this year, blending comedy and drama with a very light touch, and telling an unusual but touching story. A Mexican boy with a small part in the extremely light comedy Salsa Tel Aviv did attend the screening and posed for pictures with his proud parents.
It’s ironic that the film that opened the festival, J.J. Abrams’s super hi-tech Super 8, is about a group of kids making a zombie movie but turned out to be too scary for many of the children whose parents brought them to see it. Those poor kids! After sitting through what must have seemed like an eternity of speeches at the opening ceremony, they were hustled off by their mothers after the supernatural train derailment that comes early in the film, an extremely spooky scene (a few of the youngest viewers burst into tears). A teenage girl was heard asking her father, an Israeli film industry professional, “Why is it called ‘Super 8’?” and being told, “That was a kind of film people used long before your time.”
Several political Israeli documentaries attracted attention, including Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s The Law in These Parts, a critique of the military justice system in the West Bank, which won the Van Leer Award for Best Israeli Documentary, and Avner Faingulernt and Macabit Abrahamson’s War Matador, about Gaza and Sderot. Arnon Goldfinger won Best Director of an Israeli Documentary for The Flat (some called it The Apartment), which I heard several people raving about. I plan to see it as soon as I can. I try to see everything, but there were more than 200 movies and only so many hours in the day.
Iranian director Ali Samadi Ahadi was set to attend but did not show; but his film, The Green Wave, an animated documentary about the last Iranian elections, still drew huge crowds. Two movies by Jafar Panahi, an Iranian director jailed for criticizing the government, The Mirror and Crimson Gold, also attracted sizable audiences.
Gianni Di Gregorio, the very laidback director of the film The Salt of Life, drank white wine and rolled cigarettes in the garden, chatting with young Israeli film students. A delegation of directors, producers and actors from Bollywood were approached by countless Israelis bearing scripts, hoping to make coproductions with the Indian filmmakers.
Looking back on everything I did manage to see, one moment stands out. In the film Lipstikka by Jonathan Sagall, two Arab teenage girls sneak into west Jerusalem to go to the movies. In a scene obviously filmed at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, they see a cowboy film and snack on popcorn. While the Cinematheque occasionally shows Westerns, popcorn – and all other food – is strictly forbidden in the pristine auditoriums. For a moment, the popcorn-free zone seemed to fill with the smell of butter. Such is the power of cinema.