30 years of the Jerusalem Film Festival

A screen full of stories

Troubled dancers, windmill makers and Baha’i gardeners are amongst the characters featured in the Cinematheque’s 30th Jerusalem Film Festival

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Opening night 2012 at the annual Jerusalem Film Festival, a holy city tradition (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash 90)
Opening night 2012 at the annual Jerusalem Film Festival, a holy city tradition (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash 90)

Summer, it appears, has definitely arrived: Kids are on vacation; tourists are in town; there’s a constant, desperate need to quaff icy drinks; and Thursday brings the start of the annual, 10-day Jerusalem Film Festival — hosted, as always, by the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

The film art house is celebrating the annual festival’s 30th year, the culmination of film appreciation as consistently attested by Cinematheque founder Lia van Leer, who helped establish the series of film art houses with her late husband, Wim. The two were a young couple living in Haifa when they would invite friends over to watch their patchy copies of British films, later launching film clubs in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and hawking their black-and-white flicks to far-flung kibbutzim and desert outposts.

In 1973, a generous donor built the Jerusalem Cinematheque in its current location overlooking the Old City walls, and the film festival was launched (as well as cinematheque theaters in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Rosh Pina and Sderot). The annual event has often been an occasion for catching a glimpse of the broader world of film as well as its celebrities, but with Israel’s escalating success in exporting its films — and TV shows — worldwide, the 30th anniversary program is focused on Israeli talent, in all its forms, as well as the usual, inimitable offerings from countries near and far.

What the festival also offers, commented Alesia Weston, director of the festival, is the opportunity to dive into movies, watching them on screens that allow viewers to “see the tiniest details of the picture and listen to the nuances of the sound,” stepping away, if only temporarily, from screening your favorite flicks on the 9.7-inch screen of the iPad or, even worse, that small, sideways view on the smartphone.

It’s also about picking films to watch — any film, really — regardless of its origin, storyline or narrative, but simply because the festival offers that opportunity to see and hear stories one doesn’t normally have access to. As Weston said, “Be adventurous in your choice of films.”

If you’re having trouble picking, here’s a brief look at what’s included in this year’s program, from the known to the not-so-well known, and everything in between.

The opening-night film is director Reshef Levy’s “Hunting Elephants,” perhaps best known for starring “Star Trek” fave Patrick Stewart in this comedy about a socially awkward pre-teen boy who robs a bank with his grandfather’s cronies. Stewart won’t be in the house — the opening film of the festival is always watched from the somewhat uncomfortable seats of Sultan’s Pool, but nothing beats watching a film in the cool Jerusalem night air. Thursday, July 4, 8 pm. (Opening in local theaters on July 4 as well.)

Locals will certainly sell out the tickets for Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight,” the festival’s closing event and latest in the cult series about Jessie and Celine, the American-French couple who met 20 years ago in “Before Sunrise,” starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Saturday night, July 13, 7 pm and 9:45 pm.

Documentary film “10% What Makes a Hero,” won the Van Leer Award for Israeli Cinema, as filmmaker Yoav Shami explores the notion of heroism in his international travelogue. Saturday, July 6, 7 pm; and Sunday, July 7, 3:30 pm.

Check out the always-fascinating Jerusalem Pitch Point, a 3-hour viewing of pitches made by Israeli filmmakers to international funders and potential partners. Sunday, July 7, 10 am-1 pm, free entrance, limited seating.

“Appollonian Story” was another Van Leer cinema award-winner, telling the story of Nissim Kahlon, an eccentric loner who made the cliffs of the national park his home for 40 years, and then invited his estranged, 18-year-old son to join him. Wednesday, July 10, 6 pm; and Thursday, July 11, 12:45 pm.

Friction escalates in the inner realms of a Druze community as a former son returns home after divorcing his Jewish wife in “Arabani.” Friday, July 5, 8 pm; and Sunday, July 7, 1:30 pm.

Remember River Phoenix, the celebrated young actor who died 20 years ago? “Dark Blood” is the movie he was in the midst of filming when he suffered a drug-induced heart failure. The story of a young widower living a hermetic life in the Arizona desert was completed in 2012 by director George Sluizer, using his own voice-overs to fill in the missing pieces. Friday, July 5, 11:30 am; and Saturday, July 6, 3:15 pm.

A taste of Bollywood with “English Vinglish,” as the perfect Indian housewife makes her way to New York for a family affair. Saturday, July 6, 8:15 pm; and Wednesday, July 10, 10:30 am.

It’s a return to the Irish American hamula with actor-director Edward Burns’s “The Fitzgerald Family Christmas,” about a sticky family reunion. Sunday, July 7, 3:15 pm; and Thursday, July 11, 5:45 pm.

Gain some insights into the contemporary issues of China with “Forgetting to Know You,” a drama about a middle-class family living in an industrial Chinese town. Monday, July 8, 4:15 pm; and Wednesday, July 10, 8 pm.

If you’ve never seen a Noah Baumbach film, detailing the particular troubles of Generation X and the issues of the overeducated, underemployed, young adults on the East and West Coasts, make time for “Frances Ha,” about a young dancer seeking answers in Brooklyn, Sacramento, Paris and Upstate New York. Thursday, July 11, 10 pm; and Saturday, July 13, 12:45 pm.

Always wondered how the Baha’i Gardens ended up in Haifa (and Acre)? You’ll gain some insights with “The Gardener,” an Iranian-made film in Farsi and English, as Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf and his son, Maysan, explore the roots of this persecuted religion from the vantage point of Haifa’s wonderfully sculpted flowerbeds. Tuesday, July 9, 6:45 pm; and Wednesday, July 10, 5:45 pm.

Take advantage of the free flicks at Moonlight Cinema, hosted at the First Station, just across the way from the Cinematheque. Films will be screened for six nights running, from Friday, July 5 through Wednesday, July 10, at 9 pm and midnight. Details about the movies at the First Station website.

Get a glimpse of an alternative existence in the holy city with “Jerusalem Boxing Club,” about boxing as a way out from a tough Katamon neighborhood. Thursday, July 11, 6:15 pm.

Love or hate him, former New York City mayor Ed Koch, who passed away in February, was a force to be reckoned with. Akin to Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek, he was a larger-than-life character, literally, and “Koch” offers a full portrait of the iconic mayor. Friday, July 5, 2 pm; and Sunday, July 7, 7:45 pm.

Appreciate one of the first female Jewish actresses and stand-up artists, Molly Picon, in a digitally restored version of “Mamele,” about life in the prewar Lodz. Sunday, July 7, 7:30 pm; and Monday, July 8, 6 pm.

Love Paul Rudd? Check him out as a lovelorn bachelor in “Prince Avalanche,” as he paints the yellow lines on a quiet Texan highway in this remake of an Icelandic film. Friday, July 12, 8 pm; and Sunday, July 14, 9:30 pm.

Take a break from the big screens and sit in on “Autonomy & Anatomy of The Moving Image,” a three-day conference on video and experimental cinema in the last 10 years. Entrance is free, and more details can be found at mamuta.org.


Joshua Foer, the no-less-talented brother of award-winning novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, as well as the 2006 USA Memory Champion (which he wrote about in his book, “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything”), was also the force behind Sukkah City, a New York City project of architects rethinking the temporary huts created for the autumnal holiday. The Jerusalem screenings are the world premiere of “Sukkah City,” a documentary examining the process. Tuesday, July 9, 6:45 pm; and Wednesday, July 10, 6:15 pm.

In “William and the Windmill,” filmmaker Ben Nabors followed William Kamkwamba for five years, as the 14-year-old saved his Malawi family from hunger by building an electricity-generating windmill from scraps, then won seven years of educational scholarship and care from a head of TED Talks. A look at the young man’s journey. Saturday, July 6, 7:30 pm; and Tuesday, July 9, 5:30 pm.

Finally, watch a David Grossman novel on the big screen with “The Zig Zag Kid,” Grossman’s story of a bar-mitzvah boy who dreams of earning his detective stripes, just like his dear ol’ dad. Sunday, July 7, 5:30 pm; and Friday, July 12, 12 pm.

For tickets, theater locations and a full view of all the screenings, go to jff.co.il or the Cinematheque box office, 11 Hebron Road. This year’s theaters include the Jerusalem Cinematheque, Lev Smadar, First Station at the Old Train Station Plaza, and Mishkenot Sha’ananim.

Most Popular
read more: