The Jerusalem Film Festival, long the gold standard of Israeli sprocket operas, has had more than a few bumps over the years since founder Lia Van Leer decided to step down in 2008.
One of the few places to catch the best pics from Cannes, Berlin and Venice, the Jerusalem fest — which unspools July 10-20 — has seen, in the past six years, two artistic directors come and go, labor issues, bad blood among festival donors and funding cuts. Rather than being stymied by cultural boycotts or other political headaches endemic to the region, the festival has appeared to be unraveling from within.
So for Noa Regev, tapped CEO of the fest in December at age 32, stakes are high. “There are a lot of expectations around me, but I’m focused on results, and on doing my work,” she says.
She has already secured one major triumph: the world premiere of Eran Riklis’ “Dancing Arabs,” which will bow opening night to an audience including German thesp Martina Gedeck, Korean helmer Park Chan-wook and Austrian director Ulrich Seidl.
“Dancing Arabs,” written by Israeli Arab satirist Sayed Kashua, was shot in Jerusalem, making it an ideal choice for the festival’s opening night.
The film will head to other fests later this year, says Riklis, but it seemed natural to first bow at home. “Choosing an opening-night film is always difficult,” he says, “but I have always been an advocate for the local industry — it deserves to open the Jerusalem Film Fest, because it’s part of our DNA.”
Regev, who also serves as director of the Jerusalem Cinematheque and its historic film archive, comes armed with a Ph.D. in film, and successful stints helming the Tel Aviv Student Film Festival and the Holon Cinematheque, both of which grew in stature under her supervision.
Regev has no desire to reinvent the Jerusalem fest, an institution she says she has revered since she was a 15-year-old usher at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. Rather, she hopes to inject a renewed appreciation of Israeli directors and youth-skewing fare, while maintaining the festival’s mix of prestige pics.
Festgoers also will be treated to 200 films from both Israel and abroad, as well as a film lab, a pitch session and a kid-film competition judged by local youth.
The CEO is reaching out to younger audiences with a viral ad campaign, midnight screenings and a youth critic’s club. But at its heart, she insists the fest will remain unchanged.
“This festival had glorious days where everyone who was important in cinema attended, and it was a symbol of free culture and coexistence in a city that should stand for that,” she says. “I look at what Lia did, and I want to do the same.”