Yalla! Lights Camera Action Roll With Israel’s Film Festivals

BY Lee Saunders   DATE 17/08/2017

“Israel is absolutely fascinating. It is the kind of country where you put your finger on a windowsill and you get an interesting story,” said the Jerusalem-born Hollywood actress Natalie Portman. Many of these interesting stories are widely celebrated by the Israeli film industry with a number of film festivals throughout the year.

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The oldest of the international film festivals in Israel is in Haifa, which opened its doors in 1983. This year’s Haifa International Film Festival, which runs from 15 to 24 October 2016, is one of the most popular fixtures in the film festival calendar.

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There is much excitement based on the success of last year’s event. Attracting some 400,000 visitors to the festival in just ten days, fans last year attended 280 screenings of new films (a quarter of which are Israeli) covering diverse topics and from all over the world.

About 300 guests from the Israeli and global movie industry met the audience and colleagues in talks between screenings, receptions in the festival garden, masterclass workshops and international conventions.

Most of the films shown in the festival are award-winning and are picked by the biggest and most important festivals in the world. Premieres of new feature and documentary films from over 40 countries are shown with famous guests to include directors, producers and actors, who participate and talk with the audience.

Previous guest have included household names, such as actors Willem Defoe, Harvey Keitel, Brenda Blethyn, Joseph Fiennes and Elliot Gould.

Alongside the festival, there is a rich nightly program of cultural events open to everyone and including live music, outdoor film screenings, and an artists’ market in the nearby Mania Shokhat Park. The many cafes and pubs along the Carmel Ridge are open until late at night.

You can get to the different venues across the city by taking a free festival shuttle bus, which will stops by the Dan Panorama Haifa Hotel.

While Haifa holds the Israeli crown for hosting the first international film festival, the Jerusalem International Film Festival (JIFF) held its first festival just a year later, in 1984, and has done so every July ever since. Having matured and grown in popularity, JIFF regularly screens between 150 and 200 films showcasing the world’s finest contemporary cinema to a local and international audience.

Movie fans visiting Jerusalem can also visit the Stephen Spielberg Jewish Film Archive, founded in the late 1960s, and is the largest collection of Jewish documentary films in the world.

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Situated in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the archive stores over 18,000 titles from different periods of history, from the time of the Ottoman Empire to the present day and is a terrific resource for film producers and directors, researchers, students, university lecturers, schools and cultural centers.

It is a fascinating stop for visiting movie fans who want to learn more. The archive is open, by prior appointment only, between Sunday and Thursday.

The incredibly popular Docaviv, the annual international documentary film festival, drew tens of thousands to Tel Aviv in May and is visiting the Galilee and the Negev in November and December respectively while the southern city of Sderot also hosts the Cinema South International Film Festival at Sderot Cinemateque every summer.

This national love of film and festivals also reflects growing Israeli success abroad. The talent of a diverse generation of filmmakers, producers and actors is nurtured by top-notch film schools, such as Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, and supported by movies boards, such as Israel Film Fund (IFF) and the Yehoshua Rabinovich Foundation.

As a result, Israeli movies and shows are gaining increasing recognition at key international festivals, such as Cannes, Venice and Berlin, and Haifa International Film Festival is one of a number of major festivals in Israel, which continues to fly the flag at home.

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Written by  Lee Saunders