When it comes to Israeli films, many people ask me what to look for. I always go to see the short films and the student films. Sort of like a barometer of the times, I think these shorts reflect what young people are thinking and doing. I also like to watch TV dramas on the big screen. It is so much more impressive than on the TV screen at home and these dramas will give you a sense of what is being made for TV and what is being seen by the Israeli public.
Interestingly, there are very few feature films competing in the Wolgin competition this year. This is due to the fact that a large number of feature films have already opened in the cinemas and are therefore not being screened as part of the competition (since the festival organizers justifiably insist that the premiere screening of a film must take place at the festival in order for the film to enter the Wolgin competition).
Another category of Israeli films are documentaries -- a field of filmmaking that is growing and expanding in Israel and there are lots of wonderful documentaries this year, many of them about the Arabs of Israel and Palestine – and many funded by the Gesher Multi-Cultural Film Fund. Watch for the "Gesher" logo on the films!
If you like film classics, go see The Jester, a newly preserved and restored print of an old Yiddish musical comedy made in the 1930s. The work of preserving these old Yiddish films is being done by the National Center for Jewish Film, headed by Sharon Rivo. Rivo has been presenting a Yiddish film classic at the Jerusalem Film Festival every year for about 18 years! Check out the National Center for Jewish Film's collection at http://www.jewishfilm.org/
Another old classic, Exodus, has been restored and will be shown at the Festival. Remember the great scene in which Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman) asks a British officer (Peter Lawford), who is bragging about how he can identify a Jew a mile away, to look in his eye in order to test his theory! How many times we went to see Exodus when we were young! There will also be a special symposium, Myth, History and Celluloid, that will examine films of the period of the illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine and the War of Independence -- Exodus, Hill 24 Doesn't Answer and The Cry of the Earth.
Hill 24 Doesn't Answer, directed by Thorold Dickinson, is still one of my favorite films. The scene in which an Israeli soldier, fighting in the battle for the Northern Negev during the War of Independence, comes across an S.S. officer, serving as a mercenary in the Egyptian army, provides insight into how we view our Arab enemies, even till today. More importantly, perhaps, it deals with how we think they view us. I use this scene frequently in my film lectures, especially on the subject of Living in the Shadow of the Holocaust.