Spotlight on Israeli films

A scene from the short film “The Director” in Heroine.

From dramas to documentaries, this year’s AICE Israeli Film Festival under the helm of director Richard Moore offers a smorgasbord of award-winning films, writes Danny Gocs.

THE annual AICE Israeli Film Festival is set to showcase the best of Israeli cinema next month with a wide range of movies and documentaries.

Some of the films in the festival, which opens in Sydney on September 5 and in Melbourne on September 6, are from the Cannes Film Festival and the Docaviv documentary film festival in Tel Aviv.

The gala opening night film is the acclaimed Israeli drama Home Port, directed by Erez Tadmor.

Festival director Richard Moore, who is in charge of his fourth festival, said Home Port is a powerful test of friendship and loyalty set in the Israeli port of Ashdod against a backdrop of an industrial battle over privatisation.

The action unfolds as seaman Aharon Avitan, who has returned to Ashdod after 30 years at sea, is appointed to run the Marine Department and clashes with long-time union organiser Azulay over much-needed reforms of corrupt union practices.

Another festival highlight is the comedy Holy Air, which screened at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.

Writer-director Shady Srour stars as Adam, an Israeli Christian Arab living in Nazareth, who is struggling with life. His wife is pregnant and his father is in poor health, pressing Adam to find a new way to make a living – and the idea of selling “holy air” to tourists is born. The satirical Holy Air offers an engrossing snapshot of life in Nazareth today.

One of the standout documentaries being screened is Michael Aviad’s Dimona Twist, winner of the best documentary award at the 2016 Jerusalem Film Festival.

Dimona Twist looks at the establishment of a remote desert town through the eyes of Israel’s female pioneers who arrived in the 1950s and 1960s.

“The film focuses on seven migrant women from Poland and other countries who form a strong bond in the town in the middle of the Negev,” said Moore.

The documentary includes rare archival footage as the women overcome their cultural shock to  create rich and meaningful lives.

With several other films tackling women’s themes, Moore has created a “Women of Israel” section to the festival.

“It just happened that there were many strong films on women’s issues in the festival this year, so we decided to group them together,” said Moore.

Heroine is a 90-minute film made up of five short stories written and directed by five female directors which was made last year in Israel.

The titles of the short films are the professions of the characters – The Officer (in a female military unit), The Babysitter (dressed as a giraffe throughout), The Nurse, The Stripper (trying to get her job back) and The Director (on a movie set).

“Heroine is one of a new breed of film productions being made around the world made up of short films based around a particular theme,” said Moore. “It’s a humorous and aspirational look at young women and their choices in a 21st century Israel.”

Other “Women of Israel” films are director Haim Tabakman’s Between Worlds (2016) which is set around the romance between an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian woman; director Avi Nesher’s The Secrets (2012) is about the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi who turns to Kabbalistic cleansing rites to help a non-Jewish woman suffering terminal cancer; and Alice (2012), director Dana Goldberg’s drama set in a rehabilitation centre for young women.

The festival’s special guest from Israel is Brigadier General (Res) Gal Hirsch, an IDF general who spent 34 years in the field.
Hirsch will introduce the documentary War Story about his involvement in the Second Lebanon War in which he commanded the Galilee Division and the battles on Israel’s northern borders.

The documentary covers the incident when two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped under his watch, which led to Hirsch being forced to leave the army.

While in Australia, Hirsch will be a guest speaker at various schools in the community.

The festival is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the liberation of Beersheva by screening the 1940 Australian film 40,000 Horsemen starring Chips Rafferty.

The film will be introduced by Ric Carlsson Chauvel, whose great uncle, Harry Chauvel, led the cavalry charge that liberated Beersheva from the Turks and his grandfather, Charles Chauvel, directed and co-produced the film.

Melbourne Jewish filmmaker Jeff Daniels shot the documentary Mother With a Gun in the United States, looking at how Jews should respond to a global increase in attacks on them by focusing on the Jewish Defence League’s Shelley Rubin, who was once married to Irv Rubin, a former leader of the JDL.

The festival is paying tribute to acclaimed Israeli actress and filmmaker Ronit Elkabetz, who died last year from cancer aged 51, by screening two of her well-known films – Late Marriage (2001) and Jaffa (2009).

In Late Marriage, Elkabetz plays a divorcee and single mother locked in an affair with a student, while in Jaffa she plays a narcissistic mother oblivious to the struggles of her own family when her daughter falls in love with a Palestinian.

The 2015 documentary Mr Gaga, about choreographer Ohad Naharin who spent 25 years with Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, is being screened at the festival.

Directed by Tomer Heymann, Mr Gaga smashed Israeli box office records. (The film screened in Melbourne last year at the Nova.)

Also screening is a 16-minute documentary, Quiet Gold, by Melbourne filmmaker Erin Rosenberg. Paying tribute to the Yiddish language, it features appearances by author Arnold Zable, singer Freydi Mrocki, academic Hinde Ena Burstin and Yiddish speaker Romek Mokotow.

The AICE Israeli Film Festival is held in Sydney from September 5-17 at the Ritz Cinema, 45 St Pauls Street, Randwick and in Melbourne from September 6-16 and screens at the Rivoli Cinemas, Camberwell and Alex Theatre, St Kilda. For more information: www.aice.com.au

Festival brochure free in The AJN August 18 edition