The Australian Israel Cultural Exchange (AICE) Israeli Film Festival will kick off simultaneously in Sydney and Melbourne in just over a week. The festival is screening 16 films and documentaries covering a wide range or subject matters.
This year’s line-up includes murder mystery Firebirds, biblical adaptation Harmonia, Bedouin family drama Invisibles, and Polish/Israeli horror film Demon. Entries come from leading Israeli sales agents Israeli Films, GO2 Films, and Cinephil, as well as production houses United King Productions, Transfix Films, and Laila Films, and entries from several independent filmmakers.
This year’s festival director, Richard Moore, said the programme spans the old and the new, from performances by stage and screen veterans such as Gila Almagor, Oded Teomi, and Devora Keidar, to new and upcoming faces. “Some of this year’s entries have done very well in smaller European film festivals. It’s a real warts and all contemporary snapshot of a living, breathing Israel,” Moore said.
Israel’s thriving documentary industry is also well represented. “From the hard-hitting Town on a Wire, based on a top-rating TV series, to the highly popular Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?, an audience award winner at this year’s Berlin film festival, the 2016 crop of documentaries is a testament to the breadth of opinion in contemporary Israel,” Moore said.
Moore has considerable experience with film festivals, having previously been the artistic director of the Melbourne and Brisbane international film festivals. He is also a former head of ABC TV Arts and recently established the Hot Docs franchise in Australia with Palace Cinemas.
His association with the festival goes back a number of years, due to a long association with Israel and a passion for Israeli cinema. “My son and grandson live in Israel, I made aliyah and I was lucky enough to get to know Katriel Schori, the head of the Israel Funding Authority, when I was there. The festival has been running for 13 years, and from a film perspective I thought taking on the directorship was a great opportunity.”
Schori has presided over somewhat of a renaissance in Israel cinema that, in the space of just a few short years, has seen domestic audience penetration soar from about 3 per cent (roughly the same level of penetration for Australian films shown locally) to over 20 per cent, Moore said. “This is partly because of increased government funding but also due to the width of topics the industry has been willing to tackle. Israeli films are dynamic, thought provoking, more political from a left-wing perspective, and now appeal to a much wider international audience.”
Israeli films have also achieved unprecedented international exposure over the past decade, thanks to the notable successes such as The Band’s Visit, Waltz with Bashir, and The Lemon Tree, which explore the richness of Israeli culture while unashamedly exposing its societal flaws.
Schori deserves particular credit for defending the gates of the Israeli film industry against the government’s censorship machine and its attempts to make filmmakers pledge their allegiance to the state, in one way or another, Moore added.
When asked who the core audience was and how he hoped to expand the viewership of Israeli films in Australia, Moore said, “obviously members of the Jewish community and resident Israelis are the staple audience, but our new venues and the quality of the films selected makes me confident that people will cross the shtetl to support the festival. We believe there’s a film public out there who will come.”
Moore said Melbourne’s Cinema Nova has a great reputation as an Art House Cinema and the Ritz in Sydney’s Randwick is embracing the festival as part of its branding.
There’s no particularly Israeli way of telling a story, but if there’s one thing Moore wants people to take away from the festival, it’s that Israeli filmmakers are very alive and critical, present, and outspoken in their approach to storytelling.
The Israeli Film Festival runs from September 14–25 at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova and from September 15–25 at Sydney’s Ritz Cinema. See the AICE website for session times.
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