What’s going down in film fest town?
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What’s going down in film fest town?

A brief rundown of some of the movies that have been seen so far at the Jerusalem Film Festival

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

Screen any film at the Jerusalem Film Festival, and it’s a tossup whether you’ll be engaged, fascinated, disgusted or critical, but chances are slim that you’ll be bored. Here’s a brief glimpse of some of the films shown so far:

Both screenings for “Arabani,” a full-length film contender for the Haggiag Awards for Israeli Cinema have been shown. This fascinating glimpse of life in a Druze village is uneven, albeit riveting. Yosef is a Druze man who returns to his village after 17 years of estrangement, bringing along his teenage daughter and son. It’s unclear what the story is with his Jewish wife, since the film never fills in that information, and while the actors are skilled at displaying the pathos and sorrow inherent in the situation there’s too much downtime in between scenes and the entire film is too slow. Still, it’s interesting to get a brief sense of life in the Druze community, and much of it feels realistic.

We all know that animation has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, but 40 minutes of Oscar-nominated animated shorts in “American Academy Shorts – Animation” are remarkable in their lifelike beauty, displaying for example the breathtakingly beautiful watercolored scenes of nature in “Adam and Dog” and the lifelike paper airplanes in the romantic “Paperman,” a charming take on life for a lonely single in 1950s New York City. The program of five shorts is narrated in part by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, two animation directors who hilariously describe the scene when they won an Oscar, the culmination of years of self-doubt and hard work. Also showing July 13, 10:30 a.m.

It was a full house at “Wild West Hebron,” nominated for the Van Leer Awards for Israeli Cinema. It’s a bumpy documentary about life in Israel’s version of the wild west, the South Hebron Hills, where a cast of bizarre characters each lay claim to the desolate, rocky land they’re all trying to farm. There are the cave-dwelling Palestinians, the hilltop settlers and two private farmers — each of whom is a convert to Judaism — as well as Ezra Nawi, a well-known Israeli activist. The film drags for some of its two-hour length, showing one too many of the well-known clashes between Arabs and Jews, but the particulars of the various forms of enmity, especially the unusual partnerships sometimes forged, make for good watching.

The audience was very satisfied with “The Zig Zag Kid,” a happy-go-lucky flick adapted from David Grossman’s novel about a bar-mitzvah kid. There were certain similarities between the feature film and “Hunting Elephants,” the movie that opened the festival, also about a young boy who teams up with adults in order to solve life’s problems. But as often happens with local flicks, what’s most savored are those glimpses of people and places that are identifiably Israeli, particularly to those in the know. In “The Zig Zag Kid,” — SPOILER ALERT — the biggest “ah” came with the cameo of writer Grossman at the very end. Also showing July 12, 12 pm.

The best part about “Koch,” a favorite documentary portrait of the famed New York City mayor? The film was great, agreed theatergoers, but especially noteworthy was the short film prior, a slice of life from the annals of basketball player Wilt Chamberlain, “Borscht Belt Bellhop.” Didja know the hoopster spent two summers working at Kutcher’s in the Catskills? Now you do.

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