Sderot’s film festival is a ‘beit midrash’ for movies

Sderot’s film festival is a ‘beit midrash’ for movies

Cinema South offers an eclectic selection of local and foreign films, all for free

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Lior Ashkenazi and Asi Levi of 'Hakafot', the opening film of Cinema South (Courtesy Cinema South)
Lior Ashkenazi and Asi Levi of 'Hakafot', the opening film of Cinema South (Courtesy Cinema South)

Defying any lingering effects of last summer’s war in Gaza, the southern region’s annual Cinema South Film Festival will take place as usual in Sderot, presenting five days of intensive film screening, discussion and presentations in June.

The festival, now in its 14th year, has helped established films about the south as a genre of their own in Israeli film. Filmmakers working in the region get to screen their products in their own backyard, the Sderot Cinematheque.

Viewers, by the way, get to see them for free.

“We don’t screen our films in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem,” said Avner Faingulernt, a founder of the festival and filmmaker who heads the School of Audio & Visual Arts at Sapir Academic College, which created and works closely with the festival. “We have our own Cinematheque, our own place to talk about film.”

This year, the festival will open with Danae Elon’s documentary, “Here, And Not There” and “Hakafot,” starring actor Lior Ashkenazi of “Late Marriage” fame.

They are both films about home and where people think they belong, said Efrat Corem, art director of the festival.

Elad Keidan's 'Hayored Lemala' ('Afterthought'), will also be featured at the festival (Courtesy Southern Cinema)
Elad Keidan’s ‘Hayored Lemala’ (‘Afterthought’), recently chosen to be screened at the upcoming Cannes Festival, will also be featured at the festival (Courtesy Cinema South)

It’s a fitting topic for this year, she said, pointing to Israelis choosing to live in Berlin, and the difficult questions raised by Sunday night’s Tel Aviv demonstration by Ethiopian Israelis.

It also points to what the southern film festival and college attempt to do with the medium of film, said Corem.

“We’re a kind of beit midrash (Jewish study hall),” said Corem. “Movies die quickly once they’re in the theater. They disappear.”

The festival, she said, is a place where they get debated and discussed.

This year’s film festival will include international films from Russia, Asia and Latin America, said Erez Peri, who heads the undergraduate program in film at Sapir. They are films “you don’t find here,” said Peri. “Now you get to see them on 35 millimeter.”

Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa, Algerian-Brazilian filmmaker Karim Aïnouz, Uzbeki actor Ali Khamraev and German filmmaker Pia Marais will take part in the festival, which will screen various films from world cinema, said Peri.

There’s also the party aspect of the festival, said Hagar Saad Shalom, the festival director. As one of the main summer events in the south, the audience is young and energetic, celebrating film and everything that revolves around it.

“People come and see movies until 2 a.m.,” said Saad Shalom. “Sderot is the center of the celebration during that week.”

The filmmakers, organizers and directors behind this  year's Cinema South Film Festival, from left,  (Photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
The filmmakers, organizers and directors behind this year’s Cinema South Film Festival, from left, (Photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The free screenings are held in Sderot at the Cinematheque and in several other sites in the city. There are also projects organized around the festival, including Daka Darom, short, one-minute films made by Sapir students, as well as midnight discussion and Q&A sessions with the visiting guests.

One of the main draws of the festival for young students is the Incubator program, run by director Shlomi Elkabetz, a longtime Sapir lecturer now best known for his Oscar-nominated film, “Gett,” which he made with his sister, Ronit Elkabetz. The incubator is in its second year, and is primarily educational in its focus, said Elkabetz.

“We take young producers without a track record and they present to European directors and producers who are here for the festival,” he said. “They get editing advice and networking contacts, and they can then pick up the phone and make calls to the people who can help them.”

There are no prizes awarded during the incubator, and the project was slimmed down to four films from last year’s six in order to devote more time and money to the projects being featured, said Elkabetz.

“Red Leaves,” about an Ethiopian-Israeli trying to retain his culture, was made by Sapir graduate Bezzi Getta, a graduate of Sapir Academic College, and was screened at the festival and the Jerusalem Film Festival. It is now making the rounds of film festivals worldwide.

Darom Film Festival, June 7-11, Sderot Cinematheque, Sderot.

If you need a film festival before June, check out Tel Aviv’s annual Docaviv Festival, celebrating its 17th year of local and international documentary films, which opened on May 7 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.

The (un)Free World is this year’s theme, and the festival will open with a screening of Academy-Award winning “Citizenfour” by Laura Poitras.

The festival screenings include the 13 Israeli films competing in the Docaviv Israeli Film Competition.

The international guests attending the festival include Brett Morgan, who will present his latest film, “Cobain: Montage of Heck,” and teach a master class.

Docaviv, May 7-16, Tel Aviv Cinematheque.

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