Issues of faith win over judges at Jerusalem Film Festival

As annual film feast ends, a look at the prizewinners including ‘Tikkun,’ ‘JeruZalem’ and ‘Hotline’

As the annual Jerusalem Film Festival closed Monday night, it was Tikkun, a quiet, thoughtful film about a serious Haredi student and his questions of faith, that won the festival’s biggest feature film award.

Avishai Sivan’s Tikkun was awarded the Haggiag Family Award for Israeli Cinema for best feature. The film also won the Anat Pirchi Award for best script; the Haggiag Award for best actor — for lead Khalifa Natour — and the Van Leer Award for best cinematography.

Tikkun is about a young, religious man who goes through a near-death experience. Sivan’s first film, The Wanderer, was also about the ultra-Orthodox community.

The best documentary prize from the Van Leer Foundation went to Hotline, Silvina Landsmann’s heartfelt portrait of a Tel Aviv NGO trying to handle the never-ending tide of illegal refugees.

Wedding Doll, Nitzan Gilady’s look at a young, mentally challenged woman who works in a toilet-paper factory and finds an unexpected romance, won the Anat Pirchi Award for best Israeli debut feature; and the Anat Pirchi Award for best Israeli feature script was given to Sivan for Tikkun.

From Nitzan Gilady's 'Wedding Doll' (Courtesy 'Wedding Doll')
From Nitzan Gilady’s ‘Wedding Doll’ (Courtesy ‘Wedding Doll’)

The Haggiag Award for best editing went to JeruZalem, a fantastical tale of zombies in Jerusalem by brothers Yoav Paz and Doron Paz, which also won the Audience Favorite Award.

The Israel Critics’ Forum Award for best feature film went to A.K.A. Nadia, directed by Tova Ascher — the filmmaker’s first feature — about an Arab woman who ends up leading a secret life as an Israeli Jew for 20 years.

The festival, which screens more than 200 feature films, documentaries and shorts over the course of 10 days, is often a feeder for Israeli-made films that make their way to other prestigious film festivals, Israel’s Ophir Awards, and the films nominated for the foreign film category at the Academy Awards.

What distinguishes the Israeli films is their inimitably local character, whether presenting the ultra-Orthodox community (Tikkun), the African refugee situation (Hotline) or the complicated realities of Arabs and Jews (A.K.A. Nadia and Pennies) in Israel. Here’s a short look at five of the best:

From 'Hotline,' by documentary filmmaker Silvina Landsmann (Courtesy 'Hotline')
From ‘Hotline,’ by documentary filmmaker Silvina Landsmann (Courtesy ‘Hotline’)


The documentary offers an intense portrait of a small Tel Aviv NGO, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. Silvina Landsmann, an Argentinian-born filmmaker, directed her fifth film in pure cinéma vérité form, thrusting the audience, without any exposition, into the urgency of Hotline’s legal and public policy advocacy.

Shot entirely hand-held, Hotline chronicles the organization’s struggle to protect and advance the rights of African asylum seekers — mostly from Eritrea and South Sudan — in Israel. Landsmann concentrates more on Hotline’s staff than on the actual migrants, providing a narrative that focuses simultaneously on the institution and the larger social issue. Sigal Rozen, Hotline’s public policy coordinator, is the main subject, who brings both a wonky and human element to the story. — Eric Cortellessa


A modern horror movie set in the Old City of Jerusalem, JeruZalem follows young American tourists, Sarah and Rachel, as they encounter, on the eve of Yom Kippur, a zombie apocalypse in the gated city. The ancient city and its biblical apocalypse are shown entirely from the perspective of Sarah’s new, high-tech Google Glass “smart glasses,” giving the film a disorienting, real-life quality.

Written and directed by brothers Yoav and Doron Paz, the fast-paced film invites its audience to join best friends Sarah and Rachel on a haunting journey around and beneath the diverse quarters of the Old City. Along the way, the young women befriend a Christian anthropologist, the Arab owners of a Muslim Quarter hostel, Israeli soldiers, and a man who wanders the Old City calling himself King David — each of whom has his own complicated connection with religion, death, and the afterlife. — Zahava Presser

‘A.K.A. Nadia’

Tova Ascher, a longtime film editor, created her first feature film around an intriguing storyline, taking the audience from 1987 into the present with a young Arab woman, Nadia, who falls in love with a young PLO militant in their Jerusalem hometown. After marrying and moving to London to be with him, her life is shattered when he disappears and she is forced to find her way back to Israel under a false identity as a Jewish woman.

The bulk of the film is occupied with what happens to Nadia after she returns to Israel, creating a surprising and memorable metaphor for the alternative worlds and identities that coexist in Israel, and the emotional complexities in human nature. — Jessica Steinberg


This difficult documentary about two Palestinian boys forced by their father to beg for money at a busy traffic intersection is also a tale of perseverance, as director Badran Badran spent eight years following the family’s story. Badran noticed the boys each day as he drove to work, figuring out their work system and eventually meeting the poverty-stricken family in their hometown of Tulkarem.

“I would hear that ‘knock, knock, knock’ on my car window every morning,” said Badran, in a brief interview following the film’s premiere at the Jerusalem Cinematheque. “Their world was a theater of the absurd.”

The film doesn’t discuss politics, explained Badran, but the abiding issue for the family is the security fence that doesn’t allow the family’s father to work in Israel, and which has forced them into poverty. — Jessica Steinberg

‘Mr. Gaga’

Another work of patience and perseverance is Tomer Heymann’s Mr. Gaga, about Ohad Naharin, the longtime artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company. Heymann spent eight years filming and gathering archival clips about the life of Naharin, considered one of Israel’s premier dancers.

The film shows the full arc of Naharin’s life until the present, offering a detailed, satisfying look of what pushed this local Baryshnikov into dance, and what keeps him there, at the center of Israel’s evolving place in the modern dance world. — Jessica Steinberg

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