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J’lem film fest goes ‘Hunting Elephants’

Thousands gather for annual outdoor screening, drinking beer and cozying under blankets in the cool night air

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

The opening of the 30th Jerusalem Film Festival (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
The opening of the 30th Jerusalem Film Festival (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The crowd numbered in the thousands at Thursday night’s opening of the annual Jerusalem Film Festival, which featured Reshef Levi’s “Hunting Elephants,” a bittersweet farce about a young teen who teams up with his aging grandfather and cronies to rob a bank.

Like most film festival events, there was a casual air about the screening, as invited guests milled about in front of the enormous screen, set in the midst of Sultan’s Pool, a popular Jerusalem venue for concerts and outdoor events just below the Old City walls. Ticket holders were seated above in the bleachers, which were mostly full for this beloved, annual event, but moviegoers, actors and directors mixed in the Cinematheque courtyard prior to the film.

Starring Israeli stalwarts Moni Moshonov, Sasson Gabbai and Yael Abecassis, as well as British acting legend Patrick Stewart, the film was shot and premiered in Jerusalem. Both Moshonov and Gabbai were given lifetime achievement awards at the brief ceremony before the screening. Film festival director Alesia Weston gently reminded both actors not to take the awards to heart “as we’re expecting to see many more films from you.”

Gabai has acted in more than 40 films, but is perhaps best known of late for his role as the lieutenant-colonel in “The Band’s Visit.” Moshonov is also a local favorite, possibly most beloved from hosting the “Zehu Ze” comedy show.

It was the film’s director, Reshef Levi, who got the most laughs during the first part of the evening, cracking jokes about the making of the film, and how he convinced English actor Patrick Stewart to join the cast (supposedly after telling him that he, Levi, has seven kids).

Before signing off for the evening, Levi held up his iPhone to the crowd to record a message for Stewart: “We love you, Patrick!”‘

Then Levi gathered his cast for a quick photo-op before screening the film.

The Jerusalem Film Festival runs through July 13, with movie screenings all day, every day. More information is available on the Jerusalem Film Festival website.

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