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Jerusalem slate fuels dabate

Fest pushes political envelope

JERUSALEM — Unfolding against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Jerusalem Film Festival has a tradition of screening politically controversial films that hit a raw nerve locally, and this year is no exception.

Drawing criticism from both sides of the conflict is Palestinian Hanna Elias’ “The Olive Harvest,” a romance set in a Palestinian village surrounded by Israeli settlements that screened in fest’s panorama section Sunday.

Employing a Palestinian cast and Israeli crew and shot in the Palestinian Authority, pic revolves around a young woman who falls in love with two brothers.

Popular Palestinian actress Raeda Adun stars opposite Taher Najeeb and Mazen Saade. Muhammad Bakri, director of the controversial documentary “Jenin, Jenin,” plays the father.

The $1 million production was financed mainly by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Kamran Elahian.

Pic has also screened to Palestinian audiences in Ramallah and Nazareth as well as at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, where it unspooled the day after a Palestinian stabbed a 24-year-old Israeli to death on the city’s beachfront promenade.

It is drawing a mixed response.

“Why do you show Israelis only as soldiers?” asked one member of the audience following its screening in the festival.

“In Ramallah, people asked me the opposite questions,” said Elias. “They asked why we didn’t show more of the suffering in the PA.”

Elias conceived the film as “a message of peace,” saying he was inspired to hire an Israeli crew after working on a joint Israeli-Palestinian version of “Sesame Street” that ran in the late ’90s.

“I admired their professionalism and saw it could work,” said Elias. “I almost hired crew from L.A., then decided it would be better to work with Israelis.”

As Israel waits to see if a fragile truce declared by Palestinian militants will hold, the ideological debate is bubbling away at the nine-day fest, which wraps Friday.

Other Palestinian pics playing include Hany Abu-Assad’s documentary “Ford Transit,” that captures the effect of Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks on life in and around Ramallah through the eyes of a Palestinian taxi driver.

“It is important that we screen films that show how we are perceived by the other side,” commented festival director Lia van Leer.

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