The 33rd Jerusalem Film Festival began Thursday night with a Miri Regev brouhaha, as the often-outspoken culture minister, one of the first to speak at the opening ceremony, was greeted with boos from the audience of thousands.
“Ah, the crowd loves to treat me well,” said Regev, raising her eyebrows.
Regev has garnered headlines in recent months for her outspoken criticism of cultural productions that she contends favor the political left. She has also pushed for state culture funds to be increasingly allocated away from Tel Aviv’s flagship theaters and other institutions and toward bolstering the arts in periphery towns and promoting the culture of Mizrahi Jews from Arab lands.
The audience, in tight-knit seating in the stadium chairs of Jerusalem’s Sultan’s Pool, quieted down while Regev spoke in Spanish to actress Emma Suarez, in Jerusalem for the festival and to perform her role in the opening night’s screening of Pedro Almodovar’s latest film, Julieta.
The crowd also offered big cheers when Regev welcomed director Quentin Tarantino in broken English, and listened attentively when she announced plans for NIS 15 million (almost $4 million) in state funding for filmmaking in the poverty-stricken south.
Regev also spoke about her efforts to advance Mizrahi and Sephardi culture in Israeli society.
The jeering began again as soon as Regev mentioned Hallel Yaffa Ariel, the 13-year-old girl who was murdered in her West Bank home in the latest wave of terror.
The crowd, it seemed, wanted a night off from bad news.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat deftly handled the situation when he spoke after Regev, and thanked her for the government’s support for cultural activity in the capital.
Barkat said 60 films and television shows have been filmed in Jerusalem, “creating a change” in the city.
Jerusalem Cinematheque and festival director Noa Regev — no relation to Miri Regev — commented that the festival “allows people to think and do differently, it pushes us to challenge ourselves.”
Having director Tarantino at the festival — he last visited Israel in 2009, but not for the film festival — “is actually a dream come true,” said Noa Regev, who, with Barkat, presented Tarantino with an award.
“Wow, sababa [Hebrew slang for “cool”], said Tarantino, upon accepting the award. “There is something special about receiving this prize here in Jerusalem, at the foot of the Old City, in the open air. God bless you all.”
This was Tarantino’s second time in Israel. He was last here to promote his 2009 film Inglourious Basterds. This time he will screen a newly restored 35-millimeter print of his Academy Award-winning cult classic Pulp Fiction during the festival.
Julieta was dedicated to the memory of Cinematheque founder Lia Van Leer and Ronit Elkabetz, the beloved Israeli actress who died earlier this year, said Noa Regev.
Once the film began, Culture Minister Regev was forgotten as the crowd lost itself in the Spanish film based on “Runaway,” three short stories written by American author Alice Munro.
The Jerusalem Film Festival opened on July 7 and will run through July 17, with screenings throughout the day at several movie theaters in the city, including the Jerusalem Cinematheque.