The most ambitious film festival in Israel may well be the Cinema South Festival (Kolnoa Drom), which opens at the Sderot Cinematheque on May 30 and runs through June 3. The very concept of opening a cinematheque in Sderot seemed like an eccentric idea when this theater started in 2002. There were no regular movie theaters in the Negev at the time, and skeptics wondered how a theater dedicated to quality cinema would find an audience. But the Sderot Cinematheque, which was developed in a partnership with Sapir College, not only lasted but it has thrived, even during the Kassam rocket barrages of the past few years. Nine years ago, Sapir College developed the Cinema South Festival. It’s never easy to organize a film festival, but the Cinema South’s management has faced some unique challenges. Although the city was hit by a damaging rocket attack on opening day in 2004, for example, the festival went on as planned, with guest of honor Richard Gere on hand. Then-mayor Eli Moyal presented Gere with some shards of the rockets that fell on the city at the opening ceremony.The opening film of the 2004 Cinema South Festival was Avi Nesher’sTurn Left at the End of the World, his first Israelifilm in years after a period of living abroad. That film, which went onto become the biggest hit film in Israel (other films have outearned itabroad), looked at a girl from India who moves with her family to anisolated development town in the Negev. The film very much captured andcelebrated the determination of the Sderot Cinematheque’s founders,Noam Peretz, Elad Pereg and Prof. Haim Bereshit of Sapir College. It’sfitting that Nesher’s latest movie, Once I Was, willbe the closing attraction this year. The film is a coming-of-age storyset in 1968 about a boy who works for a matchmaker (Adir Miller) who isa Holocaust survivor. It also stars Eli Yatzpan, Dror Keren and MayaDagan. The opening night film will be The Guide to theRevolution, a documentary by Doron Tsabari and Ori Inbar, anautobiographical film based on episodes in Tsabari’s life. This year, the festival will feature three main sections: newinternational cinema from Armenia, the Philippines and Latin America;new Israeli cinema focusing on social issues; and films by students andrecent graduates of Sapir College. Among the highlights of the Israeli premieres will be Avishai Sivan’sThe Wanderer, which is in competition at Cannes thisyear and tells the story of a tormented young yeshiva student. The festival will feature a tribute to veteran Israeli actor anddirector Ze’ev Revach, who starred in such classics as Charlieand a Half. Five of the films Revach directed will be shownin the festival, including A Stroke of Luck andMr. Leon. Many cinema enthusiasts feel that Revach’stalent has never been honored as it should, perhaps because he playedmainly in comedies, many of which have a subtext of genuine socialcommentary. This year, there will be a prize of NIS 50,000 awarded to beginningIsraeli directors in the categories of documentary film andexperimental documentary.Among the guests from abroad will be Filipino director BrillanteMendoza; award-winning Armenian documentary filmmaker HarutynKhachatryan; and Mexican director Natalia Almada. Films by each guestwill be shown, including Mendoza’s Lola and Kinatay,Khachatryan’s Border and Return of thePoet, and Almada’s The General.Prof. Avner Faingulernt, the head of the Cinema and Television ArtsDepartment at Sapir College and one of the festival’s directors, says,“At the Cinema South Festival, we are bringing the voices of the ‘poor’to the center of social and cultural dialogue.”There have been times when the Sderot Cinematheque has had to shut downtemporarily due to rocket attacks. In 2007, the festival was moved toNetivot due to the Kassam barrages, but this year it will take place inits usual home. To get more information on the festival or to purchasetickets, go to the cinematheque’s Web site at www.sderot-cin.org.il.Even if you don’t plan to attend, it’s hard not to wish the best tothis festival and its organizers.