Presenting two dozen features and documentaries including several Ophir Award winners (the Israeli Oscar) and taking place in cyberspace between Dec. 13 and 27, the 34th annual Israel Film Festival will present a stellar lineup of offerings this year in a virtual format, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each film screening will include a pre-recorded Q&A featuring filmmakers and/or cast members.
This year’s IFF Lifetime Achievement Award winner is festival founder Meir Fenigstein, who commented, “As the world faces enormous disruption and loss, we are humbled at the opportunity to bring the simple pleasure of films and entertainment into people’s lives. While theaters are closed, the movies of this year’s Israel Film Festival offer audiences watching at home a chance to escape for a brief time into the wonders of great storytelling and captivating characters, and to recapture some past favorites.”
Fenigstein is the former drummer for the Israeli band Kaveret (a.k.a. Poogy), and a concert film about their 2013 reunion tour will be shown on Dec. 13 at 9 p.m., followed by a discussion with Fenigstein and director Dani Menkin.
Menkin is also the director of “Aulcie,” about basketball star Aulcie Perry, who led the Maccabi Tel Aviv team to victory at the European championship in 1977. The film follows his rise, fall and redemption. “It’s a story I wanted to do for many years because it crosses religion, race, sports drama and a wonderful love story,” Menkin told the Journal in 2016. He and Perry will discuss the film after the screening on Dec. 21 at 7 p.m.
The festival’s opening night selection is “Asia,” which won nine awards at this year’s Ophir Awards, including best feature, automatically becoming Israel’s entry at the Oscars. Stars Shira Haas and Alena Yiv also won Ophirs for their roles in the heart-wrenching story about a Russian immigrant mother and her ailing daughter. “The daughter is sick and it’s their last time together,” Haas described it to the Journal last year. “It’s a depressing subject about death and grief but it’s more about life and their relationship. There’s so much love and empathy in this movie.” Haas, Yiv and director Ruthy Pribar will participate in the post-screening discussion on Dec. 13 at 7 p.m.
“Sublet,” director Eytan Fox’s first film shot (mostly) in English, is the festival’s centerpiece selection. On assignment in Tel Aviv, an American travel writer (John Benjamin Hickey), grieving a loss, sublets an apartment and learns about the city from its handsome tenant (Niv Nissim)–and about himself as the two open up to each other. It will be shown Dec. 20 at 8:30 p.m., before a discussion with Fox.
Boaz Armoni’s “The Electrifiers” is a charmingly funny film about middle aged former rock stars who are still chasing the dream three decades after their one-hit-wonder success. Now they’re playing two-bit hotels and nursing homes while working dead-end jobs, except for lead singer Mickey, who lives in van but clings to hope that the big break is right around the corner. Zvika Nathan, who wrote the screenplay, is terrific in the role. Armoni, Nathan, and actor Elisha Banai will participate in the post-screening discussion on Dec. 15 at 9 p.m.
Another great comedy, “Peaches and Cream” is about a neurotic film director freaking out at the realization that his latest film is a flop. Starring and directed by Gur Bentwich, the film takes place in a single night as the unraveling auteur deals with frustration, failure, flaky friends, and a life-threatening heart attack. It 10 Ophir Award nominations and won three last year. It will screen Dec. 23 at 7 p.m., before a discussion with Bentwich.
“The Art of Waiting” is a dramedy about a young couple’s struggle with infertility and the toll that takes on their marriage. Nominated for four Ophir Awards including one for director Erez Tadmor, it tackles a topic that people don’t talk about in Israel. Tadmor’s inspiration for the film was his own family’s journey: his wife underwent in vitro fertilization for six years to have their two children. It screens Dec. 19 at 9 p.m., before a Tadmor Q&A.
“The Cakemaker,” winner of six Ophir Awards in 2018 including best picture, is about a German baker name Thomas who begins an affair with Oren, a married, visiting Israeli businessman. When Oren is killed in an accident in Israel, Thomas travels to Jerusalem and goes to work for Oren’s wife at her café, keeping his connection to Oren secret. The screening on Dec. 24 at 9 p.m. features a discussion with director Ofir Raul Graizer.
A high-flying adventure story about two teenagers who find an antique airplane that flew in Israel’s War of Independence and rehabilitate it with the help of a former pilot, Lior Chefetz’s “Sky Raiders” is crowd-pleasing fun for the whole family. It will screen Dec. 20 at 3 p.m. before a Q&A with Chefetz.
Honoring its late comic star Yehuda Barkan, who died in October from COVID-19, the festival will present his last film “Love in Suspenders,” a romantic comedy about two widowed, seemingly mismatched seniors who fall for each other. It’s directed by Yohanan Veller, who will join actors Michal Yamai and Nitza Shaul for a post-screening discussion on Dec. 20 at 5 p.m.
A father and his autistic son take a road trip in “Here We Are,” which won Ophir awards for its stars Shai Avivi and Noam Imber and director Nir Bergman. All three will participate in a discussion after the screening on Dec. 19 at 7 p.m.
Once Russia’s pre-eminent voiceover actors, Victor and Raya Frenkel make aliyah and find that their talents are not so prized in Israel. Their predicament is the subject of Evgeny Ruman’s comedy “Golden Voices,” which will be shown Dec. 26 at 9 p.m. before a Q&A with Ruman.
A recent retiree struggles to find a new sense of purpose in “Africa,” Oren Gerner’s film about his father. It will screen Dec. 17 at 7 p.m., preceding a discussion with Gerner and his parents, actors Meir and Maya Gerner.
When a newlywed couple gets into a fight following their wedding, their honeymoon night becomes a dazed urban odyssey in Talya Lavie’s dramedy “Honeymooned.” Lavie and actor Ran Danker will discuss the film after the showing on Dec. 24 at 7 p.m.
The festival will showcase several Ophir-winning favorites from the past, with new interviews accompanying each. “Baba Joon,” a heartwarming family story that won the best feature Ophir in 2015, will screen Dec. 16 at 9 p.m. before a Q&A with director Yuval Dashland and lead actor Navid Negahban.
A communication mix-up strands the members of an Egyptian orchestra in Israel’s Negev desert in the delightful comedy “The Band’s Visit,” which won the Ophir award for best feature in 2007. The post-screening Q&A on Dec. 26 7 p.m. features director Eran Kolirin and star Sasson Gabbai.
“Footnote,” about father and son Talmudic scholars, took the Ophir for best feature in 2011 and was nominated for the best foreign language Oscar. It will screen on Dec. 16 at 9 p.m., before a Q&A with director Joseph Cedar.
When the older sister of Shira, an 18-year-old Hasidic Israeli, dies suddenly in childbirth, Shira must decide if she can and should marry her widowed brother-in-law, which also generates tensions within her extended family. Rama Burshtein’s “Fill the Void” won seven Ophirs in 2012, including best film, actress and director. It will screen on Dec. 22 at 7 p.m., before a discussion with star Hadas Yaron and producer Assaf Amir.
The winner of the best film Ophir in 2014, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” follows a woman’s battle to obtain a divorce from her unwilling husband. Director Shlomi Elkabetz will discuss it after the screening on Dec. 16 at 7 p.m.
Documentary fans can choose from several provocative selections, including Levi Zini’s “Menachem Begin: Peace and War,” about Israel’s sixth prime minister and the challenges he faced, showing Dec. 23 at 9 p.m. with a Q&A with Zini, and “The Prophet,” a portrait of radical rabbi Meir Kahane, who founded the Jewish Defense League. It screens Dec. 14 at 7 p.m., before a discussion with director Ilan Rubin.
Screening Dec. 27 at 3 p.m., director Yaniv Segalovich’s “Perfect” documents the lives of people living with disabilities; the post-showing Q&A will include several of them.
Avida Livny’s “Murder at Cinema North” takes a deep dive into one of Israel’s most notorious crimes. In 1957, Holocaust survivor Tommy Blitz killed a bystander during an attempted robbery at a movie theater. But the shocking headlines got even stranger from there, as the film depicts through interviews with those connected to the case and letters, interviews and testimony from Blitz himself. It screens Dec. 22 at 9 p.m. before a discussion with Livny and producer and Israeli news anchor Yaron London.
The festival’s closing night film is “Laila in Haifa,” which is set in a nightclub on a single night in the titular Israeli city. Director Amos Gitai’s latest film follows interweaving stories of various encounters–sexual, romantic and otherwise–that span the spectrum from comedic to dramatic. It will screen Dec. 27 at 7 p.m. before a discussion with Gitai.
Tickets cost $12 to stream one film; $40 for a bundle of four separate streaming tickets; $54 for a bundle of six separate streaming tickets; $85 for a bundle of ten separate streaming tickets; and $180 for a Festival all access pass to all films and Q&As. Visit www.israelfilmfestival.com to purchase.