Jerusalem Post
June 30 2006

Jerusalem of Film

By HANNAH BROWN


Israeli film buffs, your prayers have been answered. The 23rd
Jerusalem Film Festival, which runs from July 6-15 at the Jerusalem
Cinematheque and other Jerusalem theaters, has a star-studded guest
list, led by Life Achievement Award winner Roman Polanski, director
of such classics as Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown, who will be here
to present his latest film, a new, grittier version of Oliver Twist.
In addition to Polanski, this year's festival will host movie stars
and directors who will thrill serious cineastes and more casual movie
lovers alike and will feature nearly 200 movies from all over the
world.

"This year, we have some very gifted people coming," says Lia van
Leer, Jerusalem Film Festival founder and director, as well as
founder of the Jerusalem Cinematheque, in an understatement. "And we
have some wonderful films."

In the movie star category, there's actress Debra Winger (An Officer
and a Gentleman, Terms of Endearment), who will be attending the
festival as a juror for the Wolgin Awards for Israeli Features and
the Drama Award in Memory of Anat Pirchi. She also narrates the
newest documentary by Lily Rivlin, Can You Hear Me? Israeli and
Palestinian Women Fight for Peace. Actress Kim Cattrall, best known
as Samantha on the television show Sex and the City, will also be
attending as part of a Canadian delegation (please see sidebar on
special programs). Other festival guests (at presstime) include
director Chen Kaige, here with his latest film, The Promise ; Istvan
Szabo, who will present Relatives ; actress Julie Depardieu (daughter
of Gerard), the star of Sauf Le Respect Que Je Vous Dois ; and
Baltasar Kormakur, director of A Little Trip to Heaven, best known
for Reykjaviik 101.
Achievement Award winners this year are Atom Egoyan, the Canada-based
director of Armenian descent, whose 2002 film, Ararat will be
screened; producer Robert Lantos, who has made such films as
eXistenZ, Felicia's Journey and Being Julia and who first visited
Israel as a water polo player for the Canadian team in the 1969
Maccabiah Games; and director/actor Eli Cohen, who has made such
films as summer of Aviya and the documentary in the current festival,
Fence, Wall, Border . . .
It's no surprise that an Israeli shares the honors with distinguished
foreign winners, because this festival is the coming-out party for
the Israeli film industry: It has officially come of age. Two years
ago, the success - both here and abroad - of such movies as Avi
Nesher's Turn Left at the End of the World, Eytan Fox's Walk on
Water, Joseph Cedar's Campfire, Keren Yedaya's Or, Gidi Dar's
Ushpizin, Eran Riklis The Syrian Bride and many other Israeli films
came as a surprise. Now, with Israeli films picking up major awards
at festivals all over the world, the time has come to acknowledge
Israel's place in international cinema and van Leer has chosen to
mark this passage by opening the festival with an Israeli film for
the first time ever.

On July 6 at the Sultan's Pool amphitheater, before a crowd of
thousands, Oded Davidoff's Someone to Run With, an adaptation of
David Grossman's bestselling novel will play on a giant screen. It
tells the story of a teenage boy and girl in Jerusalem who meet while
tracking down a lost dog and the girl's drug-addicted brother.
Following the screening, there will be an opening party right nearby
at The Lab.

Someone to Run With is just one of a large group of promising Israeli
films competing this year for the Wolgin Awards (see sidebar on
Israeli cinema). Fourteen films from all over the world will also
compete for the Wim van Leer in the Spirit of Freedom Awards, which
are given in memory of Lia van Leer's husband and deal with the quest
for freedom.

The festival has a special section on French cinema, which now
includes films in French from Francophone countries around the world.
Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako is set in Mali and interweaves stories
about families in a courtyard with a mock-trial of World Bank
officials. Alain Tasma's Nuit Noire, 17 Octobre 1961 is a feature
film about a massacre in France of Algerians who protested the French
occupation of that country. Well-known French directors such as
festival guest Chantal Ackerman are also in the lineup. Her latest
film, a documentary called La Bas, is a film diary about her 2005
stay in Tel Aviv and her feelings about her own Judaism.

The rich Panorama Section features movies from all over the world,
including American movies with big-name stars such as Jennifer
Aniston, who appears in Nicole Holofcener's Friends with Money.
Sidney Lumet's latest film, the crime thriller Find Me Guilty
starring Vin Diesel, will be shown. But some of the most intriguing
films come from Asia, including Hong Kong director Johnnie To's
Election and Election II look at the succession in a Sopranos-style
crime family. Super-cool Japanese crime star "Beat" Takeshi is faced
with an imposter in Takeshis'. The life of a family living in the
Mongolian plains is the focus of The Cave of the Yellow Dog,
Byambasuren Davaa's follow-up to his international hit, The Story of
the Weeping Camel.

Latin American films also have a strong presence, with such movies as
Claudia Llosa's Madeinusa, about a young woman in a remote Peruvian
village who sees a way out when a geologist comes to town.

As you flip through the 300-page festival catalog, certain themes
emerge. "There are wars everywhere, but there is also daily violence.
There are the same problems all over the world," van Leer comments.
As in past years, many of the films deal with refugees and others who
don't feel at home in the countries they live. For example,
Lebanese-born, Sweden-based Josef Fares' latest film, Zozo, looks at
a teenage boy moving from Beirut to Sweden. And a special program of
films from the Sarajevo Film Festival examines the fallout from that
country's civil war, with films such as Jasmila Zbanic's Grbavica,
the story of a Sarajevo girl searching for the truth about what her
father did during the war.
The trend of strong documentaries continues with such films as Micha
Peled's China Blue, a look at Chinese migrants from rural areas to
the cities; A Lion in the House, a portrait of children coping with
cancer; festival guest director Alan Berliner's latest, personal look
at the universal problem of insomnia, Wide Awake; The Pervert's Guide
to the Cinema, a portrait of festival guest philosopher and
psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek by Sophie Fiennes (sister of actors Ralph
and Joseph); Ashim Ahluwalia's John & Jane shows what really goes on
in a Mumbay international call center; and Deborah Scranton's The War
Tapes focuses on three American soldiers in Iraq who document their
experiences with video cameras.

Werner Herzog is represented at the festival by two documentaries,
The White Diamond, about zeppelins and The Wild Blue Yonder, a
quasi-documentary look at people who believe in aliens. He is also
the subject of a third documentary, Walking to Werner.
The Jewish Experience program also features some intriguing
documentaries, including Mimmo Calopresti's Volevo Solo Vivere, a
look at Italian concentration camp survivors. Among the feature films
vying for the Jewish Experience Awards are Song of Songs, Josh
Appignanesi's look at British ultra-Orthodox; Richard Dembo's La
Maison de Nina, about a Jewish refugee from Greece who sets up an
orphanage after World War II; and Nina's Journey, Lena Einhorn's look
at her family's fight to survive the Holocaust in Poland.

Festival consultant Vivian Ostrovsky spotlights the best of
avant-garde cinema in her "Carte Blanche" program, including a look
at multi-media artist Matthew Barney, Matthew Barney: No Restraint.