The curtain rose Thursday night on the 32nd Jerusalem Film Festival, one of the most prestigious stages for Israeli filmmaking and a fest whose content and character always serves as a barometer of the Israeli film scene at large.
The fest, which this year launches its first installment following the March death of its founder and champion Lia Van Leer, was at the uncomfortable center of scandal last month when it opted to pull a controversial documentary about Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin from the scheduled lineup. The decision came after Israel’s much maligned Minister of Culture Miri Regev threatened to block state funding for the festival unless the documentary, “Beyond the Fear,” was pulled.
“Beyond the Fear” was not scrapped from competition, but its screening date was rescheduled and it will now be screened privately.
Fest administrators, however, are eager to turn the spotlight back on the dozens of other films being screened at the festival. Of particular note this year is a packed and richly diverse selection of Israeli films, including a collection of films produced from students at Jerusalem’s prestigious Sam Spiegel School of Film and Television and curated by Professor Richard Peña, former director of the New York Film Festival; “Jeruzalem,” a “Euro Trip”-“Dawn of the Dead” mashup starring Israeli actress Yael Groblas (“Jane the Virgin”) as a clueless American backpacker in an apocalyptic Jerusalem; and “Tikkun,” Avishai Sivan’s exploration of an ultra-Orthodox Jew facing a staggering loss of faith.
Fest will open Thursday night with an appearance from John Turturro and a screening of Italian director Nanni Moretti’s drama “Mia Madre,” in which Turturro stars. The festivities will close 10 days later with an open-air screening of “The Godfather,” accompanied by live orchestral score conducted by John Freer. In between, other international standouts set to be shown are Taiwanese director Hou Hsaia-Hisen’s “The Assasin” and Asif Kapadia’s critically acclaimed Amy Winehouse docu “Amy.”
On July 13, in the presence of helmer Amos Gitai, composer Uri Mohilever, filmmaker Vivian Ostrovsky, Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick, Jerusalem cinephiles will gather for an event to honor the memory of Lia Van Leer, one of the great pioneers of Israeli cinema and the visionary behind its home, the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
Fest will also feature the 10th anniversary of the Jerusalem Pitch Point session, this year with a focus on co-productions between Israeli and international cinema; a panel on the topic of Israeli cinema in the eyes of the foreign media; master classes with Gitai, Turturro and Austrian helmer Ulrich Seidl; and a youth film competition overseen by a jury of teens from across Jerusalem.