Peaceful pic's fest screening timely as 280 others await

JERUSALEM — The 20th Jerusalem Film Festival went ahead as planned Thursday, taking advantage of a dip in tension following last week’s declaration by Palestinian militant groups of a three-month suspension of attacks on Israel.

Locals packed the 1,000-capacity Sultan’s Pool amphitheater in the shadow of the Old City for an open-air screening of Chinese helmer Zhang Yimou’s martial arts epic “Hero.”

With its underlying theme of peace versus war, Oscar-nominated “Hero” was a timely choice as Israeli and Palestinian politicians attempt to navigate the U.S.-backed roadmap meant to end conflict in the region.

However, scattered outbreaks of violence continue. On Thursday Palestinians opened fire on a car on a highway next to the West Bank, police said, but no one was hurt. The previous day Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man in a West Bank raid.

The fest’s emotionally charged opening evening began with an homage to its 20-year history, culminating in fireworks and the release of hundreds of balloons.

“We started this festival 20 years ago with Ettore Scola’s ‘Le Bal’ and we’ve been dancing ever since,” said festival director and founder Lia van Leer before handing the honor of opening the event to Sundance director Geoffrey Gilmore.

Gilmore is in town with a host of other U.S. indie players including USA Films’ Steven Raphael and Echo Lake’s Doug Mankoff for a day-long presentation on America’s independent film industry.

Other international guests expected to attend include brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, accompanying “Le fils” (The Son), and Wolfgang Becker with his German box-office hit “Good Bye, Lenin!”

French actress Anouk Aimee, who was to have picked up a Lifetime Achievement Award, was a no-show. Local figures to be feted include actor Arie Elias and pioneer film producer Avraham Deshe.

Some 280 pics are set to screen during the nine-day festival.

Seven local pics will compete for the coveted $40,000 Wolgin Award for feature. These include Dan Wolman’s exploration of child abuse “Ben’s Biography” and Savi Gabizon’s “Nina’s Tragedies” about a boy who falls for his aunt.

Ra’anan Alexandrowiz’ “James’ Journey to Jerusalem,” the tale of a young African’s ill-fated trip to the Holy Land, which preemed at Cannes, and Ormi Levy’s “Miss Entebbe,” which received a Special Mention at Berlin, will also compete.

The 11 contenders for the $10,000 documentary prize include Anat Halachmi’s “Channels of Rage” about the relationship between a patriotic Zionist rapper and his nationalist Arab counterpart and Amit Goren’s “Golan” about settlers living in the contested Golan Heights.

Also screening in the section is “In the Name of God — Scenes From the extreme,” the latest documentary from Dan Setton and Tor Ben-Mayor, the team that produced Charles Enderlin’s much-praised “Shattered Dreams of Peace — the Road From Oslo.”

(Associated Press contributed to this report).

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