A feast of film

Rachel Weisz stars as academic Deborah Lipstadt in the courtroom drama Denial.

TOP Israeli films and documentaries are among the -line-up of premieres at this year’s Jewish International Film Festival (JIFF), which screens in Sydney from October 26 and in Melbourne from October 27.

Festival director Eddie Tamir says the festival, now in its fifth year under his leadership, is his biggest ever, with 68 international films and documentaries, plus a program of virtual reality movies.

A shorter program will be screened in Perth from October 26, plus Brisbane, Canberra – for the first time –and Auckland starting on November 10.

“This year we have a great line-up for the festival,” says Tamir. “It has been an exciting year for Israeli films and we feature the winning films from last year’s Ophir Awards (Israeli Oscars) as well as films that have been nominated this year.

“And we have several films that did well at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.”

JIFF’s opening night film is Denial, a British-American drama starring Oscar winner Rachel Weisz as impassioned American professor Deborah Lipstadt, who is sued for defamation by Holocaust denier David Irving.

Directed by Mick Jackson, the film is based on a court case that was held in London in the 1990s.

Among the top Israeli feature films is Baba Joon, which won the 2015 Ophir Award for best picture and was Israel’s entrant for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Homeland star Navid Negahban plays Iranian-Israeli patriarch Yitzhak, who plans to hand over his turkey farm to his son Moti, but the teenager has no interest in the family business.

The film chronicles the burgeoning conflict between father and son as it presents a story of inter-gen-er-a-tional tension. Baba Joon is the first Farsi-language film made in Israel.

The new Israeli film Sand Storm, which won this year’s Ophir Award for best film, is an Israeli-French production directed by Elite Zexer about a mother and daughter living in a desert village in southern Israel, and how they struggle to adapt to a changing world.

Zexer spent 10 years interacting with Bedouin women and has drawn on this experience for Sand Storm, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinematic Dramatic section.

The Israeli film A Wounded Land, which earned Erez Tadmor the best director honour at the 2015 Ophir Awards, stars Roy Assaf as veteran Haifa police officer Kobi Amar, whose friendship with a senior colleague is put to the test when police chiefs ask Amar to investigate his friend’s possible connections to the criminal underworld.

Assaf won the Ophir Award for best actor for this role.

Director Meni Yaesh’s film Our Father is a gritty thriller with captivating performances from husband and wife duo, Moris Cohen (winner of the Best Actor Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival), and Rotem Zisman-Cohen, as they are drawn into the murky underworld in Tel Aviv.

One of the hit films of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Israeli director Asaph Polonsky’s feature One Week and a Day is an affecting look at two parents who act in outlandish ways as they attempt to regain a sense of control over their lives following the passing of their son.

Another Cannes favourite, Beyond the Mountain and Hills, is an Israeli-Belgian-German co-production directed by Eran Kolirin.

It is set around an Israeli soldier who returns home after 27 years of military service to start a new life. When a friend suggests working for a company that markets dietary supplements, he takes on the job to carve a new career, but it sets in motion a series of unexpected events.

This year’s German remake of The Diary of Anne Frank is based on her uncensored original diary, which gives a new twist to her story. Hiding in a secret annex in a house in Amsterdam while the Netherlands was under Nazi occupation, young Anne records her daily life in her diary, where she details her fears and desires as she comes of age.

The comedy film The Pickle Recipe is set around single father Joey Miller who turns to his unscrupulous Uncle Morty for a loan, which he grants on the condition that Joey must steal his grandmother Rose’s secret pickle recipe which she has vowed to take to her grave.

In the drama The People vs Fritz Bauer, Germany’s attorney-general Fritz Bauer receives evidence on the whereabouts of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, which he secretly passes on to the Israeli secret service, and in the process commits treason. The film celebrates the heroism of Bauer.

Tamir has sourced many documentaries, including several he viewed while attending Docaviv, the Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival held in May.

Among the highlights is The Settlers, which offers a historical overview and an intimate look at the history of settlements in the West Bank. Drawing on interviews with settlers and archival footage, director Shimon Dotan gives a strong insight into the current situation.

Another Israeli documentary, Presenting Princess Shaw, captures the unlikely friendship between an Israeli video-maker and New Orleans singer Samantha Montgomery.

AJN publisher Robert Magid has made the documentary Eyeless in Gaza, which undertakes an in-depth investigation of the international media’s coverage of the 2014 Gaza war, questioning its biased and skewed reporting.

Veteran actor-director Jerry Lewis, who turned 90 earlier this year, reflects on his remarkable life and career in the new American-French documentary The Man Behind the Clown, which also features interviews with friends, filmmakers and critics.

Legendary American playwright Arthur Miller, best known for writing The Crucible and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Death of a Salesman, enjoyed fame on a different level when he married Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe. The documentary Man of the Century chronicles his life.

At this year’s JIFF audiences can experience the futuristic technology of virtual reality filmmaking with a series of Israeli films from the Steamer Storytelling Lab being screened.

The Jewish International Film Festival will be held in Sydney from October 26 to November 23, Melbourne from October 27 to November 23, Perth from October 26 to November 6, and Brisbane, Canberra and Auckland from November 10. Bookings: www.jiff.com.au.

REPORT  by Danny Gocs