‘Life’ opens Jerusalem fest

Pic takes on extra resonance

JERUSALEM — The 21st Jerusalem Film Festival launched Thursday with an open-air screening of Emir Kusturica’s “Life Is a Miracle” in the Sultan’s Pool amphitheater underneath the Old City walls.

Like last year’s opener, Zhang Yimou’s antiwar martial arts epic “Hero,” Kusturica’s surreal romance set against the backdrop of 1991-95 Yugoslav War had extra resonance here.

“I’ve made a movie about peace and war. … It seems war is becoming an essential ingredient of this world,” Kusturica told a 6,000-strong crowd.

Last year, fest took place during rare lull in violence after Palestinian militants briefly suspended attacks on Israel amid efforts to implement a U.S.-backed roadmap for peace.

This year, the backdrop is very different, politically and physically.

Negotiations to end the conflict have stalled, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has embarked on a unilateral disengagement plan and violence has flared again.

Israel’s controversial separation fence, meanwhile, snakes its way along the crests of the hills opposite the fest’s epicenter, the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

Some 12 miles away, the first edition of the Ramallah Film Festival also kicked off Thursday, with Walter Salles’ “The Motorcycle Diaries.”

Back in Jerusalem, Anthony Minghella was in attendance for a retrospective of his work. Both he and Kusturica received career laurels. Local film academics Ya’akov Malkin and David Gurfinkel also were feted.

Some 200 pics will screen at the fest, running until Saturday.

A record 14 Israeli features are competing for the $35,000 Wolgin Award, double that in 2003.

These include Joseph Cedar’s “Campfire,” capturing the Zionist spirit of the 1980s, Gidi Dar’s “Ushpizin,” set against the backdrop of Jerusalem’s rarely filmed ultra-orthodox neighborhoods, and Tawfik Abu Wael’s “Atash – Thirst.”

Interestingly, Abu Wael’s Arab lingo pic, which picked up a Fipresci at Cannes, will also compete in Ramallah. Abu Wael hails from Umm Al Fahm, an Arab town just inside the Green Line.

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