Keeping the faith at the Jerusalem film festival opening

The Jerusalem Film Festival will run through August 5 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque and other theaters throughout the city.

Jerusalem Film Festival opening event at Sultan's Pool, July 28, 2018 (photo credit: NOAM PREISMAN)
Jerusalem Film Festival opening event at Sultan's Pool, July 28, 2018
(photo credit: NOAM PREISMAN)
Kippot were the new black at the opening of the 35th Jerusalem Film Festival at the Sultan’s Pool Amphitheater on Thursday night. That’s because the opening night film, Eliran Malka’s The Unorthodox, is a drama about the founding of Shas, the first political party to represent the interests of religious Mizrahi Jews, and it drew an unusually observant crowd.
The Jerusalem Film Festival will run through August 5 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque and other theaters throughout the city. The Unorthodox is playing in theaters around the county.
Although there are always religious moviegoers present at the festival opening – a glittering, star-studded event that brings together Jerusalemites of every stripe, and even attracts audiences from Tel Aviv and beyond, selling about 5,000 tickets – there is no doubt that the opening film raised interest among the Orthodox community.
Malka recently created the successful television comedy series Shababnikim, which has been described as Entourage with black hats, about a group of hell-raisers in the Jerusalem yeshiva world. The Unorthodox is the first debut feature to open the festival and just the sixth time an Israeli feature has been shown in this spot, an honor for Malka, a graduate of Jerusalem’s Ma’aleh School of Television, Film and the Arts.
Malka can also count among his achievements the fact that he managed to lure ultra-Orthodox actor Shuli Rand back to the screen for the first time since his starring role in Gidi Dar’s Ushpizin (2004), another film about the haredi community.
Ironically, Rand also starred in the Israeli classic Life According to Agfa by the late Assi Dayan, which has been digitally restored by the Israel Film Archive, a branch of the Jerusalem Cinematheque, and which will have its Israeli premiere at this year’s festival.
Rand’s portrayal of Ya’akov Cohen in The Unorthodox, a nebbish who is pushed too far and finally takes action, is light years away from the tightly wound tough guy he played in Agfa, back when Rand was secular. But on opening night, Rand commanded the huge screen, as The Unorthodox told its little-known story of the man who founded Shas to take part in the 1983 Jerusalem municipal elections after his daughter was expelled from her Ashkenazi-run school. Like everything else in Israeli politics, it’s complicated, and although the party went national and succeeded beyond Cohen’s wildest dreams, The Unorthodox details how Shas was taken over by less idealistic men who betrayed Cohen’s modest goals.
But much of The Unorthodox is upbeat, and the crowd cheered Rand and his co-stars – among them Yoav Levi, Or Lumbrozo, Yaacov Cohen and Golan Azulai – and laughed at the film’s comic moments, such as when a pious man celebrated a political win by listening to the Bee Gees’ classic “How Deep is Your Love.” Malka addressed the crowd and brought a touch of religious fervor to the event, as he explained the origins of Tu Be’av, the so-called Holiday of Love, which coincided with the festival opening.
Actor Lior Ashkenazi (Foxtrot, Footnote) was back to host the event, and he managed the job with his usual mixture of humor and charm. He calmed the audience after they booed a short film about the festival which featured several politicians, among them Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, who has called for funding to Israeli film funds to be cut unless they allow her ministry to choose and supervise their personnel. It was she and not the other interviewees in the film – Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Ze’ev Elkin, Jerusalem affairs minister, who is running for mayor with the support of Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Jerusalem Foundation CEO Anat Tzur – who drew the crowd’s ire, and it was hard to hear Regev when she said her favorite film is Casablanca. Last year, in a similar short film screened at the opening, she named the Israeli classic Operation Thunderbolt as the movie she loved best. Barkat also had a change of heart this year, citing Gone with the Wind as his top flick, while last year he said West Side Story was his favorite. But politicians are known for their ever-changing opinions.
No politicians appeared on stage this year, although Israel’s first lady, Nechama Rivlin, wife of President Reuven Rivlin, was on hand to introduce the evening’s Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, cinematographer Yaron Scharf. Scharf was the cinematographer on The Unorthodox, as well as on other Israeli films that have opened the festival, Someone to Run With and Hunting Elephants. His meticulous work has graced dozens of other films and television series, among them Footnote and Zero Motivation
More than 150 films from over 40 countries will be shown during the festival, which also features JFF on the Go, a program in which movies are screened in neighborhoods all over the city, Parkolnoa, a cinema-themed children’s amusement park in Independence Park, and many other events.
For the festival schedule and to order tickets, go to