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Two big family dramas – Lost Islands and Shiva - and films from new filmmakers characterise this year’s Israeli Film Festival, which tours its program of 11 features and some shorts around Australia during August and September 2009, writes Andrew L. Urban.

Lost Islands, the most successful Israeli film domestically in 2008 with 200,000 tickets sold, will open this year’s Israeli Film Festival (August & September, Sydney & Melbourne, organised by the Australian Israel Cultural Exchange). Written and directed by Reshef Levy, it is loosely based on his own family’s story “and is full of drama, comedy and pathos,” says festival artistic director Katriel Schory. It’s set in the 80s and begins, curiously enough, with the opening credits and footage from the 1976 Australian TV series of the same name, created by Roger Mirams.

The family has five children – two of them the eldest, twin boys, Ofer and Erez. When they both fall for the same girl, a rift develops. The film’s mood is lighthearted at first, almost like a sitcom, but gradually the darker elements rise to the surface as the father is disabled in a car accident and the boys clash over army service and the family begins to splinter. Great performances from the entire cast and strong direction made this a highly popular film in Israel – for good reason. It’s a rich, textured and satisfying screenplay.

"a world of impulses, jealousy, power struggles and paybacks"

Among other highlights of the 11 films in the program is another strong family drama, Seven Days (Shiva), which opened Critics Week in Cannes. A large Moroccan family gather to mourn the sudden death of a brother. Set in 1991 and the background of the first Gulf War and daily missile attacks, the traditional seven days of mourning provide a stifling and intensive atmosphere, creating a world of impulses, jealousy, power struggles and paybacks. Long term rivalry and financial problems come to the fore as each of the siblings is faced with their frustrated ambitions. The mood is sombre, underlined by the relentless black wardrobe of mourning, and the intensity never lets up.

Many films included in the program are by first or second time directors – Omri Givon's 7 Minutes In Heaven won the Best Film award at Haifa. For the past year, Galia has tended to her comatose boyfriend, Oren, and her own injuries. The event leading to it is a blur. The Jerusalem bus… the explosion… waking up in hospital… Most of Galia's recollections come from reports by others. But with the passing of Oren, Galia realises that to move forward, she must confront and reconstruct that one horrific day. Omri Givon’s visual style and carefully constructed narrative incorporates multiple genres – from romance, to thriller to ghost story

Ori Ravid secured Lior Ashkenazi and Tzachi Grad for his film Eli and Ben, Zrubavel is the first feature-length drama created by Ethiopian-Israeli filmmakers and Bruria is veteran documentary film-maker Avraham Kushnir's debut feature, about a contemporary ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem which is thrown into crisis as Bruria, wife and mother, goes on a quest to find the last copy of her rabbi father’s book. Controversial on publication, the book was burned by his religious opponents and the family denounced. Her husband Yaakov is opposed to the quest, but the search for the book becomes a crusade for Bruria during which she confronts the compromises she has made in her life, her desires and her limitations.

"representing the voices of the future"

“We have included three award-winning short films by graduates of the acclaimed Ma'ale Film School – representing the voices of the future,” says Schory.

Published August 20, 2009

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