November 16, 2018

Diversity Is Highlight of 32nd Israel Film Festival

Still from “Working Woman”

A diverse lineup of features, documentaries and short films will be presented at the 32nd Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles, kicking off Nov. 6 with an opening night gala at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills that will honor Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher and “Halloween” producer, Jason Blum.

More than 40 films and television series will screen at the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts and Town Center 5 theaters over a two-week period ending Nov. 20.

“We have close to 30 guests coming — Israeli stars, directors and producers” who will participate in Q&A discussions following their films, IFF founder and executive director Meir Fenigstein told the Journal. 

In addition to new films, including many award winners and nominees, the festival will pay tribute to six Israeli filmmakers with screenings of their classic movies, including Moshe Mizrahi and Menahem Golan’s “I Love You Rosa”, Uri Barbash’s “One of Us” and Assi Dayan’s “Halfon Hill Doesn’t Answer.”

On Nov. 13, four family-friendly films will be shown at the Skirball Cultural Center in a program called “Jewish Identity Through Israeli Films,” starting with the TV comedy “The New Black,” about four rather un-Orthodox Yeshiva students. 

Other selections also deal with religion, including Nesher’s opening night film “The Other Story” and Eliran Malka’s “The Unorthodox.” The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the subject of the documentaries “Foreign Land,” “A Land Without Borders,” and “The Oslo Diaries,” which premiered on HBO in September and whose directors will attend its screening. “It’s an important film because we need to look back to look to the future,” Fenigstein said.
There are films about musicians (“Redemption,” “Here and Now’), people with special needs (“Shoelaces,” “On the Spectrum”), transgender issues (“Family in Transition”) and sexual politics (“Working Woman,” “Fractures”).

Documentaries include “Touching the Sky,” about female Israeli Air Force pilot trainees; “To Err is Human,” about medical mistakes and how doctors are endeavoring to prevent them; and a revealing look “Inside the Mossad,” with former spies from the Israeli intelligence agency.

“The Cakemaker,” which played at the IFF last year, is making a return appearance. “We want to help it go to the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes,” Fenigstein said.

He noted that the Annenberg Foundation joined this year’s group of sponsors, which will fund a prize to the IFF winners. “We’re going to give almost $100,000 in post-production funding to the winner of best feature and best documentary audience choice awards,” he said.

“Working Woman”
A dream job turns into a nightmare for Orna (Liron Ben-Shlush) in Michal Aviad’s timely “Working Woman.” Seemingly inspired by #MeToo, its screenplay actually dates back to 2012. It’s about a married woman who endures sexual advances from her boss (Menashe Noy) because her family needs the money, but suffice it to say that she becomes empowered in the end. 

“All my films are about women’s issues, from a woman’s point of view — issues that concern society,” Aviad said. In this film, “I really wanted to understand why women don’t leave or complain. What makes men continue this kind of behavior? What makes women put up with it? Can women and men work together? All this has been going on forever. Women need to work to provide for our families and we want to have a career but we can’t pay this kind of price. It’s time we tell this to everybody and to ourselves.”

Aviad, who studied literature and philosophy in Israel before getting her graduate degree in the United States, lived in San Francisco for 10 years before returning to Israel, where she’s now on the film department faculty at Tel Aviv University. Having specialized in documentaries like “Dimona Twist” and “Jenny and Jenny,” “Working Woman” is her second scripted feature. 

A secular Jew of Sephardic-Italian heritage on her mother’s side and of Ashkenazi-Hungarian ancestry on her father’s, Aviad documented her parents’ experiences during the Holocaust in “For My Children.” “My father got out before the war and went back to fight with the British army, and my mother and her family went into hiding,” she said. 

Aviad is troubled by the Israeli Culture Ministry’s new edicts that deny funding to artists who criticize the government. “I’m worried that democracy is losing its ground, step by step,” she said. On the other hand, recent steps toward progress in the women’s movement encourage her. “Maybe there’s a beginning of a change,” she said. 

A Still from “Fractures”

Arik Lubetzky’s “Fractures” has a different take on sexual misconduct, focusing on a renowned professor (Shmuel Vilozni) who faces public shaming and marital implosion when he’s accused of coercing a graduate student into an intimate relationship. No one escapes unscathed. 

“These situations are very complicated,” Lubetzky said, noting that in this case, “Everybody is a victim, including the children. These things can destroy a family. We have to look very carefully about these cases and not be so judgmental because we don’t know all the details of what happened. I want the audience to understand that and dig deeper and see it from a different perspective.”

Lubetzky said that he is drawn to stories “about the nature of the human being [whether it’s] a police drama, a Holocaust drama, or a situation like [‘Fractures’].” He may be best known for his film “Apples From the Desert,” which won the IFF audience award in 2015. “I’m not religious at all but I made a film about a religious girl who ran away from her Orthodox family and has a clash with her father,” he said.  

His next project has conflict as well: it’s about two couples, immigrants from Russia, whose lives cross and clash.

A heartwarming story about the complicated relationship between an aging, ailing father (Doval’e Glickman) and his adult son (Nevo Kimchi) who has special needs, “Shoelaces” is particularly personal for director Jacob Goldwasser. “I have a son with special needs. The story is not our story, but it’s very personal to me because I identify with the characters very deeply,” he told the Journal.  He confided that he’d avoided the topic for many years “because I was afraid to be so close to my pain,” but he reconsidered with encouragement from actor Kimchi.

Goldwasser realized that he could use the film to promote awareness of special needs people, “that I could change attitudes in the public and increase understanding,” he said. His efforts resonated with Israeli audiences and critics, earning seven Ophir (Israeli Film Academy) Award nominations, including best film and best director, and a best-supporting actor win for Glickman

“Rescue Bus 300”
What starts out as a tense hostage drama about a bus hijacking turns into a shocking cover-up in Rotem Shamir’s “Rescue Bus 300,” a true story that the director calls “a scar on our history.” It chronicles an April 1987 incident in which four armed terrorists commandeered a bus en route from Tel Aviv to Ashkelon, and it combines re-enactments and interviews with the hostages, reporters and military officials. 

“It was an opportunity to dive into a very dire and tense character-driven situation. I love portraying characters in high-octane situations because they bring out the best and worst in people,” Shamir said.

He had to research the details of the takeover and takedown, but he knew the infamous story about its aftermath. The Israeli public was told that all four terrorists died in a shootout, “But photographs reveled the truth,” Shamir said. “There was a direct order from the Shin Bet to kill the two terrorists who had survived. It was just the beginning of a cover-up that went all the way to the Prime Minister. It took two or three years for the whole thing to come out of the woodwork. Nobody went to jail for this. But the public’s perception changed a lot from that point on.”

Shot over four cold days in February 2017 for the reenactment and one more day for the interviews, “Rescue Bus 300” aired on Israeli TV in May, but Shamir is hoping for a theatrical or streaming release here. Meanwhile, he’s gearing up to shoot the third season of the acclaimed drama “Fauda,” which streams on Netflix. 

“We have a great story that’s different from the first two seasons that takes it to the next level. It’s more complicated in the sense that it’s not just about two men going head-to-head, which was the case of both seasons of the show,” he said. “It’s more of an ensemble season. Doron (Lior Raz) is still leading the group, but not everything revolves completely around him. There are new female characters on the Israeli side and the Palestinian side is completely new.”

Shamir, who has been making movies since he took a filmmaking class in high school at 14, has his next project lined up: a sci-fi series set in a dystopian future, shot in Hebrew and Arabic. “I hope we can get some international support distribution-wise and take it to the next level,” he said.

The Israel Film Festival runs Nov. 6–20. Visit for schedules and information.

‘The Cakemaker’ Explores Religion, Sex and Pastries

Tim Kalkhof in “The Cakemaker.” Photo courtesy of Strand Releasing.

“The Cakemaker” should satisfy the most finicky pastry lover, but otherwise the Israeli-German co-production has elicited ecstatic praise and sneering dismissal from film critics.

Variety gushes over the “tender, tactile” atmosphere of the “auspicious feature debut,” while the Hollywood Reporter dismisses the “wishy-washy characters … weak screenplay … and stiff performance” of the lead character.

Audiences are likely to be divided along the same lines, depending to a large extent on their tolerance for sexually and emotionally complex characters that don’t fall easily into standard categories.

There is Thomas (German actor Tim Kalkhof), who runs a small cake and pastry café in Berlin. Among his most loyal customers is Israeli businessman Oren, who works for an Israeli-German city planning company. Oren is played by Israeli actor Roy Miller.

Although devoted to his wife, Anat, and young son back in Jerusalem, Oren finds himself sexually attracted to Thomas, and the two begin an affair.  However, when Oren has to return to Jerusalem, he promises to stay in touch and return to Berlin a month later.

When Thomas doesn’t hear from Oren, he keeps calling him but there is no response. Eventually he checks in with Oren’s office and discovers Oren was killed in an auto accident.

Distraught, but determined to learn more about his dead lover, Thomas flies to Israel and tracks down the restaurant run by Anat (played by talented Israeli actress Sarah Adler.)

Without revealing his relationship with Oren, Thomas is hired as a dishwasher. However, he can’t resist baking some cookies on the side, which delight Anat and her son. Less delighted is Anat’s observant brother Moti (Zohar Strauss) because the German unwittingly has used treif ingredients, thus putting at risk the restaurant’s kosher certification.

Nevertheless, Thomas now moves into full cake-baking mode, and the hitherto sparsely patronized restaurant becomes a highly popular local eatery.

Anat soon falls in love with Thomas, and makes the initial sexual overtures. After some hesitation, Thomas reciprocates.

“The Cakemaker” looks at the complexities created when people of different and changing sexual orientations, religions and nationalities try to establish close relationships.

Orchestrating the complex interactions in his first feature film is Ofir Raul Graizer, born in Israel but working out of Berlin. He is openly gay, but argues in both his professional and personal life against defining a person by a single facet. Raised by a religious father and a secular mother, Graizer explained his perspective in an interview with the online site Cineuropa.

“I always wanted to tell a story about people who don’t want to be defined by political, sexual or national identities,” he said. “They want to say, ‘I don’t care about this identity; I am who I am. I want to love someone because I need to be close to that person and not because I’m homosexual or heterosexual.’ ”

The film’s dialogue, written also by Graizer, is in Hebrew, German, and — when Israelis converse with Germans — English.

“The Cakemaker” opens June 29 at Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, 673 E. Colorado Blvd.; Laemmle’s Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A.; and Laemmle’s Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino.