Pini Tavger’s “Pinhas,” a film project exploring the Jewish identity through the eyes of a 12-year old boy, won the top prize at the sixth edition of Sam Spiegel International Film Lab, a program running alongside Jerusalem Film Festival.

“Pinhas,” which marks the feature debut of actor-director Tavger and is based on his student short film, received a production grant worth $50,000 from the Beracha Foundation. Haim Mecklberg (pictured above with Tavger) at Tel Aviv-based outfit 2-Team Productions (“Sand Storm”) is producing.

The project centers on a young boy, Pinhas, and his hard-working, heretic mother who are new immigrants from Russia living in Israel. The story revolves around Pinhas’s relationship with a religious man who helps him find a sense of belonging and initiate him to judaism against his mother’s will.

The Sam Spiegel Lab’s jury was presided over Hengameh Panahi, the founder and president of Paris-based outfit Celluloid Dreams, and included Beki Probst, president of the European Film Market, Carlo Chatrian, Locarno’s director, Laurent Hassid, the head of foreign film acquisition at Canal Plus, Cédomir Kolar (“Album”), Katriel Schory, the director of the Israel Film Fund, and Vincenzo Bugno, project manager of the World Cinema Fund.

“A fascinating sensitive and conflictual script based on semi-autobiographic hardships beautifully presented through a scene for the upcoming film; and an emotional presentation that touched the audience,” said the jury about “Pinhas.”

Tavger previously directed “Tipot,” a short film that was part of the Israeli-Palestinian omnibus feature which opened Venice Film Festival in 2012.

The Sam Spiegel Lab handed out its second prize of $20,000 (also from the Beracha Foundation) to two projects: “Naked Sky,” directed by Dea Kulumbegashvili and produced by Rati Oneli, and “Highway 65,” directed by Maya Dreifuss and produced by Estee-Yacov Mecklberg.

The initiative, launched in 2011 by Renen Schorr, the venerable founding director of Sam Spiegel Film and Television school – with the help of associate director Ifat Tubi — allows filmmakers to work on the scripts of their first or second feature for 6 months with high-profile mentors, such as Clare Downs, Jacques Akchoti and Eran Riklis.

So far, as much as 75% of the Lab’s projects have been shot in the U.S., France, Germany, Israel, Argentine, Sri Lanka and Iceland, among other places, and have world premiered at festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Tribeca and Sundance. Laszlo Nemes (“Son of Saul”), Nadav Lapid (“The Kindergarten Teacher”) and Burhan Qurbani (“We Are Young. We Are Strong”) for instance participated in previous editions of Sam Spiegel Lab.

This year’s Sam Spiegel Lab event gathered more than 30 top international film industry professionals, including sales agents, distributors, festival programmers and festivals.

In 2016, Sam Spiegel Lab’s top prize was awarded to Yona Rozenkier’s feature debut “Decompression,” a comedy-laced drama about an unemployed young family man who is forced to embark on a cross-country road trip with his estranger father in Israel.

“Decompression” is back at the festival this year as part of the Pitch Point conference, another industry event organized alongside the festival.