Premiere performances

Israeli films such as The Congress and Bethlehem draw a buzz at the Haifa film fest.

Ari Folman’s film The Congress (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ari Folman’s film The Congress
(photo credit: Courtesy)
While the Haifa International Film Festival, which takes place from September 19-28 at the Haifa Cinematheque and other theaters around the city, is famous for bringing the best in cinema from all over the world, in recent years its Israeli films have attracted as many viewers – and as much buzz – as the movies from abroad.
This year is no exception. Films that have transfixed audiences around the world at festivals, or that are about to, will have their Israeli premieres in Haifa.
The opening night film, Ari Folman’s The Congress, is certainly one of these much-awaited films.
The Congress is an animated/live action futuristic drama featuring Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel and Jon Hamm.
Israeli filmgoers at Haifa will finally get the chance to see Yuval Adler’s Bethlehem, which was co-written by Palestinian journalist Ali Waked. The film won the FEDORA Award for Best Film at the recently concluded Venice Days section of the Venice Film Festival and has also played at Telluride and at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a hard-hitting thriller about the relationship that develops between a Mossad agent (Tsahi Halevy) and his young Palestinian informant (Shadi Mar’i). It has been nominated for 12 Ophir Awards in virtually every category for which it was eligible.
Another much-anticipated film is Joseph Pitchhadze’s Sweets.
Pitchhadze has not made a film for nearly a decade and is best known for his 2004 film Year Zero, starring Moni Moshonov and Sarah Adler. Sweets is set in and around Jerusalem and stars Makram J. Khoury. It tells the story of a Palestinian businessman who tries to set up a candy factory in Israel.
Khoury also stars in Erez Tadmor and Guy Nattiv’s Magic Men. Here, he plays a Holocaust survivor who heads off on a road trip to Greece with his hassidic rapper son (Zohar Strauss) to find a magician who saved his life during the war.
Actress Yuval Scharf is having a sweet year (although she doesn’t appear in Sweets), and she recently traveled to Venice to promote the film Ana Arabia, directed by Amos Gitai, which is also having its Israeli premiere at the festival.
Gitai, a Haifa native, generally receives a warm welcome at the festival. This young Israeli star also has a key role in the cable drama New York and got her first Ophir Best Actress nomination for Avi Nesher’s The Wonders. Ana Arabia tells the story of a small group of misfits who live on the margins of society and are drawn together when a journalist interviews them.
It also stars Sarah Adler.
Raphael Nadjari is a French director who began making films in Israel a decade ago. His latest film, A Strange Course of Events, is about a troubled young man recovering from a divorce who visits his parents (Moni Moshonov and Michaela Eshet) to confront them about issues from his childhood.
Adam Sanderson’s Funeral at Noon tells the story of a young woman (Hilla Vidor) who begins to find her place in her rural community when she starts taking care of her neighbor’s son and befriends him.
Emmanuel Naccache is bringing his latest film, Kidon, to the festival. Starring Sasson Gabay and Raymonde Amsallem, it’s a comic, suspenseful film based on true events in which the Mossad was implicated in various goings-on around the world. Naccache made a very funny film, The Jerusalem Syndrome, in 2008, which never got the attention it deserved on the world film scene.
Actress Hanna Azoulay Hasfari has written films in the past, but she is making her directorial debut with Orange People, a film about a grandmother with mystical powers who wants to retire and pass her calling on to her granddaughter.
Yossi Aviram’s The Dune stars Lior Ashkenazi in a psychologically charged mystery about a man found unconscious on a French beach.
Twelve documentaries on a wide variety of subjects will compete in the Israeli documentary competition, and there will be competitions for short Israeli films, animated films from Israel and films by Israeli youth.
For more information and to order tickets, go to the festival website at