Silver cinema in the City of Gold

The J'lem Film Festival celebrates its 25th year with 200 films from 45 countries, 100 guests from around the world and two new auditoriums.

The Jerusalem Film Festival, which runs until July 19, celebrates its 25th year with 200 films from 45 countries, 100 guests from around the world and two new auditoriums. It also marks the first year that festival founder Lia van Leer takes on the title of founding director with Ilan de Vries assuming the mantle of general director. But van Leer is still very much involved and the festival is still - and will always be - hers. And ours. As always, one of the most festive aspects is the guests. This year, British director Michael Winterbottom, (Wonderland, Welcome to Sarajevo, The 24-Hour Party People and A Mighty Heart) and actor/director John Malkovich (Being John Malkovich, Dangerous Liaisons and Ripley's Game), will receive Achievement Awards, attend the festival and participate in workshops. Producer Mike Medavoy will also receive an Achievement Award but, sadly, is not attending. The festival also pays tribute to two cinema greats who died this year: veteran Israeli character actor Moscu Alcalay and British director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, Cold Mountain) who was honored with an Achievement Award in 2004. At the heart of the festival are the Wolgin Awards as well as the Anat Pirchi Awards and awards in the Jewish Experience category [see sidebars]. The main international prize, the In the Spirit of Freedom Award, inspired by and in memory of philanthropist Wim van Leer (Lia's late husband), consists of 15 features and documentaries focusing on the fight against oppression. These films include Jerusalema, the story of a petty criminal in South Africa; Lamb of God, a look the Argentine reality today and during the late seventies; Errol Morris' Standard Operating Procedure, a documentary about the shocking abuse at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq; Fighting the Silence, a documentary on rape victims during the civil war in the Congo; and Hunger, a drama based on the story of IRA member Bobby Sands' hunger strike. The Panorama section features films from established filmmakers from all over the world. A few highlights of this amazingly diverse section are Isabel Coixet's Elegy, starring Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz, based on the Philip Roth novel, The Dying Animal; Sean Penn's masterful Into the Wild, about a middle-class young man who retreats into the Alaskan wilderness; Red Belt, written and directed by David Mamet, about the world of jujitsu, which Mamet studies passionately; Let the Right One In, a Swedish film about a boy who is bullied and then befriends a vampire, which took top honors at the Tribeca Film Festival; Still Life, winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, the story of two people searching for lost loved ones in a town in China set to be completely demolished to make way for a new dam; and Andrzej Wajda's epic drama Katyn about a little-known incident in 1939 in which the Soviet army killed tens of thousands of Polish soldiers. Several festival programs focus on the recent cinema of single countries, including Rendez-Vous featuring French Cinema (one highlight of this program is Hello Goodbye, starring Fanny Ardant and Gerard Depardieu as a couple who move to Israel), Eye on Indian Cinema and Romanian Cinema: The Next Generation. The New Directors program is always one to watch, and this year a highlight will be Synecdoche, New York, the long-awaited directorial debut of acclaimed screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation). As in past years, the documentary category is extremely strong. Stranded tells the real story of what happened in that infamous plane crash in the Andes in 1972 - the one with the cannibalism. Werner Herzog gives his bizarre take on Antarctica with Encounters at the End of the World, though you'll probably learn more about nature in Anne Aghion's Ice People, also set in Antarctica. Shattering Silence examines BMW's partnership with the Nazis during the Second World War. And The Heart of Jenin tells the story of an Arab family in Jenin who decided to donate their son's organs to children in need - who happened to be Israeli - after he was killed. A program of classics includes a screening of and a discussion about Otto Preminger's Exodus. Don't forget the children's film festival, with two full-length features dubbed into Hebrew and a program of short films. There are also programs of cutting-edge animation from Israel and around the world. Truth is there are so many films and events, it's worth checking out the website at