Jerusalem of gold welcomes the silver screen as film festival comes to town

Screenings of 180 films will dot the capital, many of them outdoors

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

For the 35th time, the Jerusalem Film Festival is set to regale the capital with a celebration of cinema from near and far.

This year’s 11-day program starts Thursday, featuring screenings of 180 films from 60 countries along with competitions, workshops, meetings with filmmakers and even a truck-borne mobile movie theater.

The gala opening film is “The Unorthodox,” the premiere of Eliran Malka’s film about the establishment of the Shas political party in the early 1980s. Starring Shuli Rand, it’s an informative hour-and-a-half-long look at a movement founded by a clutch of frustrated Israelis.

Malka is also the creator behind “Shababnikim,” the award-winning HOT television drama about too-cool-for-school yeshiva students in Jerusalem. The series is in Hebrew and Yiddish with Hebrew and English subtitles, and the makers and cast will be present at the Sultan’s Pool opening night.

With JFF on the Go, the film festival’s first official mobile cinema, festival screens will be coming to nine neighborhoods: Pisgat Ze’ev, Katamonim, French Hill, Beit Hakerem, German Colony, Kiryat Hayovel, Armon Hanatziv, the First Station and Ramot.

Both Israeli and foreign films will be shown, at 8:30 p.m. July23-August 4; more information and trailers are available at the JFF site. Note that Matan Yair’s film “Scaffolding,” about a 17-year-old troublemaker trying to figure out his life, will be shown twice.

Outdoor screenings are also available at Cinema Park in downtown’s Independence Park from July 28 through August 1, with favorites like “The Big Lebowski,” “Bob Sponge Squarepants,” “Jaws” and “Grease,” along with hip-hop performances and food trucks to cater dinner.

In the Old City, Back 2 Back will show two corresponding films on two screens simultaneously in Muristan Square, while movies, music and ambiance are available at the New Gate — both from July 31 to August 2.

The tension of film pitches will be on show at Pitch Point Jerusalem 2018 on July 27, when budding filmmakers screen and try to sell their films, as well as at The Hop, Skip & a Jump — Third Edition, an August 3 event at which local animators pitch their projects. There’s also a related animation workshop on August 2.

Finally, here are some films to look out for this year, ranging from the strange and psychic to bold dramas and sorrowful stories:

“Skate Kitchen” is a tender coming-of-age story that’s perfect for New York lovers and skateboarders, with wonderful shots of the city. If you love campy thrills, try “Knife + Heart,” a slasher film about the dark sides of passion.

Science fiction lovers will appreciate “Upgrade,” about Australian life in the near future, and “Lemonade” is a poignant debut of Romanian director Ioana Uricaru about the mixed wonders of the green card experience in the US.

Tennis fans should try “John McEnroe: In the Realm of Pefection,” a fascinating, unusual documentary exploring the parallels between tennis and cinema with a  focus on the 1970s tennis champion.

There’s also Kevin Macdonald’s “Whitney,” an engrossing look at 1980s pop star Whitney Houston who experienced a dark fall into drug addiction, with a brief glance at the other elements that affected the life of this promising voice.

The festival also includes an international competition, awarding a $20,000 prize from the Gabriel Sherover Foundation to one of 11 films.

The competing films are a wide-ranging collection, including “Aga,” Milko Lazorov’s epic journey to north Siberia to portray the simple life of Nanuk and his wife, who lead a traditional life in their animal skin yurt that is nevertheless marred by signs of the encroaching modern world. Their daughter left them after a disagreement, and now they mourn her loss as they grapple with the turns of their own lives.

Other nominated films including “Touch Me Not,” a big winner at the Berlin film festival, screened in Jerusalem in the presence of actor Laura Benson, who helps explore human sexuality in this debut film that straddles fact and fiction.

“The Wild Pear Tree,” another nominated film, will be screened in the presence of actor Dogu Demirkol, who returns home in this Turkish film to raise money for his first novel but first has to deal with some familial issues.

“Dogman,” Matteo Garrone’s new film about an unlucky guy, isn’t an easy watch, but actor Marcello Fonte, who plays the owner of a dog boarding facility, won the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival and will be present at the screening.

The Jerusalem Film Festival runs July 26 through August 5 at the Jerusalem Cinemateque and throughout the city.

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