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‘Wise Hassan’ Wins Top Prize at Jerusalem Film Festival’s 12th Pitch Point Event

“Wise Hassan,” a Tel Aviv-set thriller directed by Palestinian filmmaker Tawfik Abu Wael, scooped the top prize of the 12th edition of Pitch Point, a competitive industry event hosted alongside the Jerusalem Film Festival.

One of the seven films in production presented at Pitch Point, “Wise Hassan” won the Van Leer Award, worth 20,000 NIS ($5,500).

The film marks Abu Wael’s third feature after “Last Days in Jerusalem,” which competed at Locarno, and “Thirst,” which opened Cannes Critics’ Week in 2004 and won the Fipresci prize.

Produced by Baher Agbariya at Haifa-based Majdal Films, “Wise Hassan” centers on 27-year-old Hassan, who lives with his mother and dreams of changing his fate. Hassan agrees to take part in a plot to assassinate Lulu, a collaborator living in Tel Aviv who turns out to be a transgender female working as a prostitute. The character-driven thriller follows the tribulations, disintegration and revival of this young man as he discovers the margins of life in Tel Aviv.

The Pitch Point jury included Dylan Leiner, executive VP of Sony Pictures Classics; Michal Steinberg, executive VP of business affairs for Entertainment One’s film group; Mike Goodridge, CEO of Protagonist Pictures; Matthijs Wouter Knol, head of the Berlinale’s European Film Market; Tanja Meissner, head of sales at Memento Films International; Maria Kopf, managing director of Filmforderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein; and Meinolf Zurhorst, head of fiction at Franco-German network Arte.

Another pic in production, Yona Rozenkier’s “Decompression,” which won the main prize at last year’s Sam Spiegel Lab, won the YAMPIMLAB Award, worth $5,700. Produced by Kobi Mizrahi at KM Productions, “Decompression” is a dark comedy about an unemployed family man who lives in the U.S. and travels with his wife and baby to rural Israel where he is forced to embark on a cross-country road trip on board a tractor with his estranged father.

The DB & Opus Award, meanwhile, went to Ruthy Pribar’s “Asia,” which is produced by Tel-Aviv based Gum Films. The film follows a mother facing the death of her terminally ill teenage daughter.

Lastly, Amikam Kovner and Assaf Snir’s “Echoes” and Alamork Davidian’s “Fig Tree,” two of the four pics in post-production presented at Pitch Point, won the Cinelab Award (worth $17,000) and the Wouter Barendrecht Lia Van Leer Award (worth $4,500), respectively.

“Echoes” follows a man who discovers that his wife, who died in an accident, was having an affair and embarks on an obsessive investigation to find out the identity of her lover. The search reveals unknown aspects of his wife’s personality. The suspense drama is being produced by Yonathan Paran and Keren Michael at Doria Media Paran.

“Fig Tree,” another project that participated in the Sam Spiegel Lab and won a prize there, is inspired by Davidian’s own childhood experiences and centers on Mina, a 16-year-old Ethiopian Jewish girl living in war-torn Addis Ababa. As Mina’s family prepares to immigrate to Israel, the teenager is torn by the prospect of leaving her boyfriend behind and devises a plan to bring him with them. “Fig Tree” is produced by Saar Yogev and Naomi Levari at Black Sheep Film Productions.

Ariel Richter, the head of Pitch Point, said the lineup was reduced by more than 40% this year to raise the bar on the quality of projects. “All of the films taking part in Pitch Point this year are directed by well-known or up-and-coming filmmakers,” said Richter, adding that the selection varied from comedies to thrillers and dramas dealing with universal themes and stories.

Richter said the Pitch Point initiative had been a successful launchpad for several films that went on to premiere at high-profile festivals, notably “Scaffolding,” which was presented at Pitch Point at script stage in 2016 and world-premiered at this year’s ACID section running alongside the Cannes Film Festival.

The Pitch Point program brought together more than 70 industry figures and hosted several roundtables, including one that discussed the impact of digital services on the deal-making and distribution process of independent films as well as the theatrical experience.

Leiner said SPC was still considering “digital distribution as a delivery system as opposed to an end in itself.” SPC releases between 14 to 18 films per year and aims for films which “must be seen in theaters because of their filmmaking craft or cultural resonance.”

Leiner acknowledged that finding films that fit that bill was as challenging as ever and argued that the difficulty doesn’t stem from competition from other distribution companies and digital services but rather from the fact that “content creators are now working on apps, TV shows or different kinds of original programs for new channels.”

The exec said that SPC’s job was, more than ever, to “market films for a theatrical audience, put a frame around them and give them a cultural context.”

Steinberg, who spent over a decade at The Weinstein Company before joining Entertainment One as exec VP of business affairs, said many companies, including TWC and eOne, were now working with Amazon and Netflix as their partners. For instance, eOne has a deal with Amazon Video in the U.K.

“You can’t make them the evil but you can’t make them your best friends either,” said Steinberg.

Goodridge said the role of sales agents was to educate filmmakers and producers about different models and find the best distribution avenue for each movie. The Protagonist boss gave the example of “Birth of a Nation,” which went to Fox Searchlight in spite of the fact that Netflix was reportedly the biggest bidder.

Wouter Knol said the turmoil caused by the selection of two Netflix movies, “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories,” in competition at Cannes proved that theaters and windows still played a big role in Europe’s independent film circuit.

The panel took place on the day that the Venice Film Festival announced the selection of “Our Souls at Night,” a Netflix original film starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.

The Jerusalem Film Festival wraps on July 23.

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