The northern port city of Haifa routinely plays second fiddle to its big sisters of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but the Haifa International Film Festival, a global cinematic showcase anchored in this blue-collar, hardworking town, is clearly coming into its own.
The 10-day event, which launches Thursday, is held annually over the harvest festival of Sukkot. This year, the festival’s 30th, will offer an eclectic mashup of both Israeli and international films.
On the homegrown front, highlights include “The Farewell Party,” a Jerusalem-set dramedy about assisted suicide that has been lapped up by the critics ever since its September premiere at the Venice Film Festival; “Yona,” the Nir Bergman biopic about poet Yona Wallach; and Asaf Korman’s “Next to Her,” the striking story of two sisters that features a standout performance by Israeli actress Dana Ivgy (Ivgy earned an Ophir award, the Israeli equivalent of the Oscar, for this role last month).
“Villa Touma,” a drama about three unmarried sisters in Ramallah from Haifa-born Palestinian Suha Arraf, will be shown not in the Israeli section but in the Panorama section along with other international, non-Israeli films; the move comes as no surprise after Arraf raised hackles at the Venice Film Festival when she refused to have the film listed as a product of Israel.
Arraf’s fellow Haifaite, legendary Israeli director Amos Gitai, will be screening his difficult Holocaust drama “Tsili,” which also showed at Venice.
The centerpiece of this year’s festival will be a tribute to satirist Ephraim Kishon, the man behind some of the most beloved Israeli films of all time – “Sallah Shabati,” “The Policeman” and “The Big Dig” among them. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Kishon’s death, and the festival will honor his memory with free, open-air screenings of some of his best work.
The Haifa International Film Festival will run from Thursday, October 9 to Saturday, October 18.
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