Movies migrate south

After near cancellation four years ago, Eilat's International Film Festival has nearly doubled in size.

painted veil 88 298 (photo credit: Yari Film Group)
painted veil 88 298
(photo credit: Yari Film Group)
Four years after organizers nearly canceled its inaugural run, the Eilat International Film Festival returns to Israel's southernmost city Wednesday at nearly double its original size. Roughly twice as many films - ranging from Israeli student films to Meg Ryan's latest - will appear on the city's silver screens during the festival's four days, accompanied by guest appearances by recent Oscar winner Ari Sandel (writer and director of the comic short West Bank Story) and the Israeli producers of the next Rambo movie. Actress Valerie Harper of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda will accept a lifetime achievement award and attend a screening of her latest film, Golda's Balcony, an adaptation of the one-woman Broadway show about former Prime Minister Golda Meir. It's a packed schedule for the still young film festival, which was nearly called off in 2003 because of security fears stemming from the US invasion of Iraq a day before the festival's opening. The film series has grown impressively in the intervening years, and in 2007 will feature 62 works from countries ranging from the Belarus and Germany to Singapore, Chile and Turkey. Films from Israel and Hollywood will also be well-represented, among them last year's crowd-pleasing Israeli drama Three Mothers and The King of California, the story of a mentally unwell father (Michael Douglas) trying to convince his daughter that a fortune in Spanish gold lies hidden beneath their suburban surroundings. The US-Israeli film connection gets explored in a more direct way in Hollywood Dreams, a new documentary charting the highs and lows of Israeli performers trying to make it big in Los Angeles. Among the actors interviewed in the film is Mili Avital, best known internationally for her starring turn opposite Friends' David Schwimmer in the ill-fated 1998 romantic comedy Kissing a Fool. The two most talked-about Israelis currently acting in Hollywood, Noa Tishby (The Island, episodes of CSI) and Michal Yanai (who's got five studio films set for release this year) also weigh in on the competitive search for stardom in Hollywood. Three of Yanai's upcoming Hollywood productions have another Israeli connection - they're all being produced by two of the Eilat festival's special guests, successful LA moviemakers Avi Lerner and Danny Dimbort. The Israeli-born twosome will be honored for films they've produced separately and together, among them 2001 Holocaust drama The Grey Zone and Lonely Hearts, a critically acclaimed drama starring John Travolta and Salma Hayek currently screening at US theaters. In addition to upcoming films with stars including Scarlett Johannson, Laurence Fishburne and the pop singer Jessica Simpson, Lerner and Dimbort are also working behind the scenes on the next Rambo movie, which like its predecessors will star Sylvester Stallone as the vengeance-obsessed title character. Joining Lerner and Dimbort at the lifetime achievement ceremony will be Harper, who will also attend the screening of her first studio film in two decades. The Rhoda star has spent much of the last two years touring the US in the play Golda's Balcony, a Tony award winner that focuses on the prime minister's experiences as a female leader and her perceived failures during the Yom Kippur War. In addition to its celebrity guests, the festival will feature lectures on a variety of cinematic topics and a selection of Israeli student films. The winners of a mini-festival of children's movies will be decided by 10 school-age judges from Eilat, while a series of more adult-oriented dramas will be screened as part of "Hope and Harmony," a program of films being sponsored by the Peres Center for Peace, the Jordanian Royal Film Commission and the Florida-based Global Peace Film Festival. Vacation and ticket packages are being offered for the festival, and films from outside the English-speaking world will be screened with English subtitles.