Festival circuit flush with fresh faces

According to Israel Film Fund topper Katriel Schory, approximately one-third of the Israeli features and docus released in the past few years came from first-time helmers. Below, a few with films currently on the fest circuit:

Shmuel Beru

‘Zrubavel’ reflects Ethiopian experience

Writer-director of the first Israeli-Ethiopian drama, “Zrubavel,” Beru, also a comedian and actor, arrived in Israel in 1984 at the age of 9, along with several thousand other Ethopian Jews, courtesy of the Operation Moses airlift. His film, a winner at Haifa and Taormina, centers on a multigenerational family of Ethopian emigres who come to Israel filled with optimism, but face prejudice and difficulty integrating.

Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani

Israeli-Palestinian pair share their perspective in ‘Ajami’

Copti — a Palestinian citizen of the Israeli state, born and raised in Jaffa — and Shani — an Israeli Jew — met at the Tel Aviv Intl. Student Film Festival in 2002 and started their collaboration as helmer-scribes of gritty drama “Ajami.” A runner-up for Cannes’ Camera d’Or, this Jerusalem Fest winner offers a penetrating look at a multiethnic Jaffa neighborhood where Arabs and Jews live side by side in deep mutual mistrust. Copti also plays a leading role.

Dana Goren

Docu helmer eyes drama for next project

Jerusalem-born prizewinning graduate of that city’s Sam Spiegel Film School, Goren is interested in the concept of identity in immigrant societies. That notion defines her feature-length docu “Diplomat,” winner of the Jerusalem Fest’s documentary kudos. It explores the enclosed world of Jerusalem’s 700-room Diplomat hotel, which houses a group of veteran immigrants from the former Soviet Union never integrated into Israeli society. Goren is developing her first drama.

Niv Klainer

Autobiographical details inform feature debut

Also a Sam Spiegel alum, writer-director Klainer transforms his experience as the child of a mentally ill parent into art with drama “Bena.” The tale follows a Tel Aviv father determined to keep his schizophrenic teen son out of the psych ward, but when he takes in a Thai immigrant worker, she upsets the delicate balance of his home.

Samuel Maoz

Vet helmer overcomes obstacles to tell personal war story

The oldest of these “fresh faces,” 47-year-old Maoz was trained as a cinematographer and has directed numerous musicvids, commercial spots and promos as well as TV series, docus and dramas. His intense writing-helming debut, “Lebanon,” reflects his traumatic experience as a novice tank gunner during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The passion project faced many setbacks, including the death of producer Uri Sabag, but went on to compete at the Venice Fest. Like “Waltz With Bashir,” the pic reflects the collateral damage of war on both sides.

Sharon Maymon

Weinsteins believe co-helmer’s ‘Size’ matters

A graduate of Tel Aviv’s Camera Obscura College of Arts, Maymon turned his story idea into mammoth crowdpleaser “A Matter of Size,” which he co-wrote with Danny Cohen-Solal and co-directed with Erez Tadmor. Pic won audience awards in Karlovy Vary and Traverse City; remake rights for this genial situation comedy about four overweight friends who start a sumo-wrestling club were nabbed by the Weinsteins’ Dimension Films.

Leon Prudovsky

Comic director has auds counting ‘Hours’

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Prudovsky immigrated to Israel at the age of 13. “Five Hours From Paris,” his feature helming-writing debut, is a stylish romantic comedy centered on a neurotic Israeli cabbie and a Russian emigre music teacher.

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