Director: 'It's about looking at ourselves and the other'

Film about female Arab and Jewish city workers’ interaction is Israel’s Oscar entry

‘Cinema Sabaya’ will represent country at Academy Awards after sweeping Ophirs; other winners include Sasson Gabbay for ‘Karaoke’ and ‘Savoy,’ which portrays 1975 terror attack

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

The cast of 'Cinema Sabaya,' the big winner in Israel's Ophir Awards on September 18, 2022. (Courtesy: Cinema Sabaya)
The cast of 'Cinema Sabaya,' the big winner in Israel's Ophir Awards on September 18, 2022. (Courtesy: Cinema Sabaya)

The movie “Cinema Sabaya” swept Sunday evening’s Ophir Awards ceremony, winning Best Film, which automatically makes it Israel’s selection for consideration as a foreign film nominee at the 2023 Academy Awards in the United States.

The film, starring Dana Ivgy, tells the story of Arab and Jewish female municipal workers who take part in a video workshop, document their own lives and view each others’ — challenging their own beliefs to get to know each other.

It also won the awards for Best Director for newcomer Orit Fouks Rotem, Best Supporting Actress for Joanna Sayid, Best Costumes and Casting.

“This is all yours as much as it’s mine,” said director Fouks Rotem, adding that she worked on the film for eight years.

“It’s about looking at ourselves and the other.

“When you look with curiosity, it’s much easier to see something else.”

The cast and crew of ‘Cinema Sabaya’ pose with their Ophir Awards after winning Best Picture and other prizes, September 18, 2022. (courtesy)

The film “Karaoke,” about a middle-aged couple in Holon who gets to know their neighbor (Lior Ashkenazi) through his karaoke parties, won for Best Actor and Best Actress for stars Sasson Gabbay and Rita Shukrun. The film also won Best Soundtrack.

Gabbay, 74, winning his second Ophir Award in a long and storied film career, thanked his fellow actors in the ensemble film and called Ashkenazi “a magician” of an actor.

Another big winner of the evening was “Savoy,” for Best Makeup, Artistic Direction, and Editing.

The hybrid documentary feature from filmmaker Zohar Wagner, also starring Dana Ivgy, retells the story of the 1975 terrorist attack at the Savoy Hotel which resulted in the deaths of eight civilians, three IDF soldiers and seven out of the eight terrorists.

As culture minister Chili Tropper gave the lifetime award to director Lena Chaplin, now 88, he took the opportunity to speak about the role of politics in film — in reference to the recent brouhaha over the new pro-settler Shomron Film Fund, and a highly contentious call to hold a future Ophir Awards ceremony in the Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line.

Tropper called on filmmakers to “make political films, but not to play politics on the backs of films.”

“I love film and freedom of creation and I love Israel,” he said. “Criticize Israel but do it out of a little bit of love too. Israeli society is strong enough to take criticism.”

The Israel Film Academy stepped up its production of the Ophir Awards this year, with a tightly-produced Israeli Oscars.

The event was hosted by actor Oz Zahavi and held in Tel Aviv for the first time in many years, but with a relatively small audience, with some attendees in jeans and t-shirts and others in gowns and suits.

“Valeria Is Getting Married,” also up for the top awards, won Best Screenplay for its tale of two Ukrainian sisters, one who married an Israeli and the other who is about to do the same.

Filmmaker Shlomi Elkabetz won for his documentary, “Black Notebooks,” a love letter to his sister, the late actress and director Ronit Elkabetz, while “The Artist’s Daughter, Oil on Canvas,” also won in the documentary category.

The full ceremony will be replayed on Keshet at 11:15 p.m. on Sunday, September 18.

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