Israeli Film Festival Screens in Ottawa June 8 - 22

Patrick Stewart stars in the Israeli Film Festival opener Hunting Elephants.
It’s been a strong year for Israeli cinema so far with films like Bethlehem and Big Bad Wolves enjoying both critical and commercial success. Fans of either film—or cinephiles looking to explore new terrain—should be sure to attend the Canadian Film Institute’s upcoming Israeli Film Festival. The Israeli Film Festival, which runs June 8 to June 22, offers a diverse quartet of films from The Holy Land. This year’s IFF has everything from drama to documentary to even Patrick Stewart. That’s right, Professor Xavier appears in one the festival films!

A Place in Heaven
Stewart co-stars as a geriatric bank robber in the comedic caper Hunting Elephants, which serves as the Israeli Film Festival’s opening night film on Sunday, June 8. The hit comedy, which the folks at Toronto’s Next Projection call a “wonderful and unexpected film that delights at every turn,” gets the festival off to a breezy start. Things take a darker tone in the middle of the festival with A Place in Heaven, the latest film from internationally-renowned director Yossi Madmony (Restoration), which Variety says “masterfully merges the epic and the anecdotal.” The festival also features the gripping documentary Farewell, Herr Schwarz, which won First Prize at the Documentary Competition of the 2013 Haifa International Film Festival. The Israeli Film Festival ends on a lighter note with Avi Nesher’s The Wonders. The Wonders, dubbed “the most interesting film Nesher has done in years” by CinemaScope, marks another TIFF hit making its Ottawa premiere at the festival. It sounds like a promising quartet of films at this year’s Israeli Film Festival, so we’ll cheer mazel tov for good cinema!

Line-up for the 2014 Israeli Film Festival:

Hunting Elephants

Dir. Reshef Levi | Israel | 2013 | 107 min
Sunday, June 8, 2014, 7:00 pm

Synopsis: Jonathan is a boy genius with severe social problems. After losing his father in a traumatic event, his mother leaves him in a nursing home with his grandfather, a bitter and hard old man who never kept in touch with his grandson until that day. At the nursing home, Jonathan meets a host of extravagant, picturesque figures, including his grandfather Elijah and his friend Nick, past "Lehi" underground members who used to rob banks for their country during the British occupation. Joining them is Jonathan's uncle, an Englishman and a frustrated Shakespearean actor, trying to put his hands on his sister's inheritance. Together, the four go on a journey to rob the bank that has ignored their existence.
-Features Star Trek and X-Men’s Patrick Stewart!
-Nominated for 7 awards of the Israeli Film Academy including Best Picture.

Farewell, Herr Schwarz

Dir. Yael Reuveny | Israel/Germany | 2014 | 96 min.
Thursday, June 12, 2014, 7:00 pm

Synopsis: Michla and Feiv'ke Schwarz, sister and brother, could have re-met in Lodz in 1945. But they didn't. She migrated to a Jewish state in the Middle East and started a family there, while he returned to East Germany, changed his name to Peter, married a German woman and lived the rest of his life in the camp where he was once a prisoner. But that is just the beginning. The outcome of their decision affects the course of lives for generations to come, in the here and now: The children who struggle to deal with their parents' silence and their own unasked questions; their grandchildren who are haunted by family secrets and forced to question their own identity. Farewell, Herr Schwarz is an epic documentary by Yael Reuveny, the granddaughter of Michla Schwarz, a personal journey between Israel and Germany.

A Place in Heaven

Dir. Yossi Madmony | Israel | 2013 | 117 min.
Thursday, June 19, 2014, 7:00 pm, Auditorium, 395 Wellington St.

Synopsis: Although it may seem strange, the Halacha (Jewish religious law) recognizes the trade or transfer of a person’s place in heaven. What happens when this idea leaves the ancient books and becomes part of real life? A young officer, in the early days of the State of Israel, returns from a successful operation. He is very hungry. The assistant army cook offers him a ridiculous deal. The cook will make the officer’s favorite spicy omelet in exchange for the officer’s place in heaven. Forty years later, the officer is now a retired general, lonely and bitter, lying on his death bed. His son, who has become newly religious, decides to search for the assistant cook who, forty years earlier, bought his father’s place in heaven and to convince the cook to cancel the contract. If he succeeds he will save his father from hell and perhaps find serenity for himself. This is a Jewish tale using a little known Halachtic element and at the same time an intriguing observation on the relationship between a father and his son.
-Nominated for 10 awards of the Israeli Film Academy including Best Picture.
-Official Selection 2013 Toronto International Film Festival

The Wonders

Dir. Avi Nesher | Israel | 2013 | 116 min.
Sunday, June 22, 2014, 7:00 pm.
Synopsis: Ariel (Ori Hizkiah), a bartender and graffiti artist who lives in the slums of the Old City, is trying to win back his ex-girlfriend (Efrat Gosh) who has recently become Orthodox. Late one night, Ariel’s pleasantly mundane existence is turned upside down when he encounters the mysterious Rabbi Knafo (Yehuda Levi), a modern-day prophet with special clairvoyant powers and a cult of finagled followers, being held captive in an abandoned building. A pushy private detective (Adir Miller) and his lovely redheaded client (Yuval Scharf) soon rope a reluctant Ariel into a plan to use his neighboring apartment as a stakeout. Thus opens a rabbit hole of conspiracies, red herrings, unlikely alliances, quirky characters and cartoons that come to life.
-Nominated for 2 awards of the Israeli Film Academy including Best Actress.
-Official Selection 2013 Toronto International Film Festival

All screenings take place at Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street.
Tickets are $12 for general admission; $8 for CFI members, seniors, and students (cash only).

Please visit www.cfi-icf.ca for more information on this year’s festival.

The 2014 Israeli Film Festival runs June 8 – 22.
(And check back for reviews!)

What do you plan to see at the festival?