Outside the mainstream

This year’s Haifa International Film Festival features an eclectic array of cinematic gems from near and far.

'Circumstance' film 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
'Circumstance' film 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The 27th Haifa International Film Festival, which runs from October 13-22 at the Haifa Cinematheque, will feature the best of current Israeli and international cinema, but it will also feature some film programs spotlighting films outside the mainstream.
The Independent Cinema Program features Maryam Keshavarz’s Circumstance, an Iranian/French/American coproduction about a lesbian romance in Tehran. Not surprisingly, the film could not be made in Iran but was shot in Lebanon. Openly critical of the Iranian establishment, it tells the story of a relationship that develops between female cousins when one young woman goes to live in her aunt and uncle’s house after her own parents get into trouble with the government. The film received the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Another Sundance winner, Project Nim, which won the World Documentary Directing Award, will be shown in this program. Directed by James Marsh, it tells the story of a complex and tragic experiment on a chimpanzee that was taught sign language at Columbia University (and is sure to inspire a more serious debate on animal rights than the recent Hollywood film Rise of the Planet of the Apes).
Stephen Marshall’s documentary Holy Wars, released in the US with the tagline “War is heaven,” is a look at two religious extremists, one an American Christian, the other an Irish Muslim.
Two of the godfathers of the independent cinema movement in the US have new films in the Panorama section. Todd Solondz, the director best known for his bleak, well-acted and ironically titled Happiness, has a new film, Dark Horse. It stars Justin Bartha, Selma Blair, Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken in a story about two misfits who find each other. John Sayles’s Amigo is a period drama set in the Philippines during a war with the US.
Sayles has made dozens of indie films, including Return of the Secaucus Seven, Lone Star and Silver City.
Other programs present the best in New Polish Cinema and New Asian Cinema. One highlight of the Asian Cinema list is Zhang Yimou’s latest film, Under the Hawthorne Tree. Based on a best-selling Chinese novel, it tells of forbidden love during the Cultural Revolution. Yimou has directed such acclaimed films as Raise the Red Lantern, To Live, Hero and House of the Flying Daggers. The director himself served in a labor camp during the Cultural Revolution.
The East of the West program presents 12 films from some of the best directors in Russia and other former Soviet countries.
For those who enjoy films that are really out there, there is Fringidaire, the Independent Cinema Display, a program sponsored by the festival, the Cinema Fringe group, and the Holon Cinematheque. Fringidaire will be held on Thursday, October 20, and will feature the best of Israeli fringe cinema. What exactly is Israeli fringe cinema? They are movies that don’t fit neatly into any established category and are unlikely to find a mainstream audience outside of a festival.
Sometimes the films are not a standard length (too short for a feature film, too long to be considered a “short”), have a nonlinear structure or are too irreverent for the mainstream.
The opening film of this program, which will be held at Beat Club, is Didi Lubetsky’s Poisoned, a 43-minute “horror comedy” about a geeky soldier whose base is taken over by zombies.
Babylon Blues is an attempt to reflect on and illustrate Meir Ariel’s album and is directed by a team of filmmakers: Gudis Schneider, Shunit Aharoni, Rony Oron and Ayelet Varshl.
Einat Fernbach’s Matinee is described as a film about “three urban women on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”
Ariel Cohen’s Take Mama is a thriller about a blind mother that was originally intended for an Orthodox audience.
The program closes with Gur Bentwich’s Planet Blue, a 1995 film about a mystical odyssey that has become a cult classic.
Aspiring directors and producers will be interested in the Filmmakers Roundtable, which will be run by the festival in conjunction with the Gesher Multicultural Film Fund Initiative on creative relationships early in a director’s career.
In addition, Yael Fogiel, a French- Israeli producer who made the film The Tree, will be the featured guest at a pitching event for Israeli filmmakers.
For further details on the programs and to order tickets, visit the festival website at http://www.haifaff.co.il.