Two tie for best pic

JERUSALEM — Dan Wolman’s “Foreign Sister” and Joseph Pitchhadze’s “Besame Mucho” shared the best picture award at the 17th Jerusalem Film Festival, but it was Kirk Douglas who was the star of the fest, which closed Saturday.

On opening night, Douglas was honored with a lifetime achievement award in a festive ceremony that included the country’s cultural and political elite. In an emotional speech, interspersed with many sentences in Hebrew, Douglas discussed his Jewish background, the three films he shot in Israel and the meaning of Judaism to him, particularly after his helicopter accident and stroke. Douglas concluded with a prayer for the end of hatred between Israeli and Arabs.

In a later ceremony in Migdal David (Tower of David), in the Old City, Douglas was honored with the prestigious prize of the Jerusalem Fellow, a distinction rarely conferred.

“This is without a doubt the highlight of a very emotional visit,” Douglas told Daily Variety. Earlier the actor committed funds for several causes, including the construction of kindergartens and parks in which Israeli and Palestinian children will play together.

“This project has been my dream and my vision,” Douglas said. “Children are not born with hatred; they learn to hate, and it needs to stop.”

‘Dragon’ opener

Six filmmakers, whose latest films were shown in the festival, were honored with career achievement awards: Michael Cacoyannis (with a new version of “The Cherry Orchard”), Istvan Szabo (“Sunshine”), Wim Wenders (“The Million Dollar Hotel”), Volker Schlondorff (“The Legends of Rita”), Israeli Avraham Heffner and Ang Lee, whose Cannes entry, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” opened the festival amid fireworks in a 5,500 seat amphitheater.

The Wolgin Jury for Israeli Cinema, which included this reporter and is named after Philadelphia’s philanthropist Jack Wolgin, declared a tie for best picture: “Foreign Sister,” a touching agit-prop about the evolving friendship between a bourgeois, educated Israeli woman and an Ethiopian illegal immigrant; and “Besame Mucho,” a stylishly made film noir about the love affairs and tangled interactions of a dozen colorful characters, all in a state of crisis.

Coin for local pix

The feature competition was rather small (only five films), reflecting the dismal state of the local industry at the moment. The situation promises to change with last week’s passing of a new law that guarantees greater funding out of TV commercials revenues for locally made pics.

David Fisher’s docu “Love Inventory” was singled out for best nonfiction kudos with a cash prize of $10,000. A tale of emotional complexity, pic centers on a tight-knit family of four brothers and one sister who set out on an obsessive journey to unravel the mysterious circumstances under which their baby sister “disappeared” shortly after she was born back in 1952.

Throughout the festival, which concluded with Alan Rudolph’s “Trixie,” discussions of film art were mixed with briefings about the progress of Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s peace summit with President Clinton and Yasser Arafat, reflecting the politicized nature of everyday life in Israel.

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