Seven Decades of Israeli Film

Scene of two men sitting at a table eating from the movie "Maktub" (Fate)

The movie “Maktub” (Fate)

It has been 70 years since Israel declared its independence.¬† So this year, the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia (IFF) will showcase films that highlight different aspects of the region’s history. The movies will be shown at various locations in Philadelphia and the nearby suburbs from March 3 to March 25.

Several of the documentaries and feature films epitomize the struggles that the infant Israeli nation underwent as it transitioned from survival mode to inclusion. Others deal with the acceptance of minorities, modern day dilemmas, and affairs of the heart. [Read more…]

Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia This Entire Month

By Laurel Fairworth

2017 LogoThis year the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia is all over the map in a theatrical way. Now in its 21st year, the festival kicked off on Saturday, March 4. The month-long film extravaganza, which runs through April 2, 2017, takes place in venues around the Philadelphia area including the Perelman at the Kimmel Center, the Ritz, the International House, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy and the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. [Read more…]

Eat like a Sabra

— by Laurel Fairworth

Shakshouka in sauceThe Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia (IFF) is celebrating an important milestone from March 12 through April 3, 2016: two decades of showcasing the best movies from Israel and the Middle East. The IFF is the only independent non-profit Israeli film festival in the country. What started as a passion project has grown into an eagerly awaited cinematic occurrence.

In honor of the IFF’s 20th anniversary season, Giovani’s Bar and Grill, at 15th and Chestnut Streets in Center City, has concocted a dish called the Israeli “Big Picture” Shakshouka. For every platter ordered, which includes pita and Israeli chopped salad, the restaurant will make a donation to the film festival.

Shakshouka, a traditional Mediterranean dish, is made up of a spicy tomato sauce with the Middle Eastern herb and spice blend za’atar. The dish also contains paprika, parsley, garlic, feta, olives, onions, hot peppers and of course, perfectly poached eggs. Simon Atiya, his brother Ami and his brother-in-law Haim Atias have been running Giovani’s for more than a decade, and are excited that Israeli cuisine is finally catching on.

“This reminds us of home,” says Atias. “The hearty stew-like meal is often served at breakfast, but can really be enjoyed any time of the day.”

The Israeli Big Picture Shakshouka is not on the menu at Giovani’s, but it is available during the Israeli Film Festival’s run from March 12 through April 3. The dish must be requested and will be made fresh on the spot. Says festival founder Mindy Chiqui, “Watching movies from the Middle East can whet your appetite for foods from the same region.”

Israeli Film Festival Kicks Off This Weekend

The Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia will mark its 18th year Saturday, March 8, with a screening of the comedy “Hunting Elephants” and a gala dessert reception at the University of Pennsylvania’s International House.

The movie features Sir Patrick Stewart, joining Israeli acting veterans Sasson Gabai and Moni Moshonov in a cinematic romp in which three elderly men and a young teenager decide to rob a Jerusalem bank.

On Sunday, March 9, the International House will offer three movies. First at 2:30 p.m., “Hunting Elephants” will be screened again.

Full event list after the jump.
Then at 5 p.m., the documentary “Sharon” will be shown.

Director Dror Moreh, of Oscar-nominated “Gatekeepers” fame, created this film in an attempt to understand how the late prime minister, with a reputation for hardline policies, could also be the architect of the withdrawal of Israeli citizens and soldiers from Gaza. His riveting film combines unique private moments from home movies, archival footage from his public life and interviews with companions from the past decades to create a portrait of the military leader and statesman.

“Sharon” will be followed by a falafel dinner.

The day will conclude at 7:30 with the screening of another documentary, “Special Interview.” This movie follows two young Israeli adults with learning disabilities in their quest to interview President Obama. While they have already interviewed many well-known personalities, it is their deepest dream to meet the President. Viewers will go along on their journey to fulfill this dream and get a glimpse into their unique world.

17th Israeli Film Festival Opens Next Month

The Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia will mark its 17th year next month, March 2-17. The aim of the festival is enriching the American vision of Israeli culture and society through film. A slate of feature films and documentaries were selected with a goal of providing a diverse and impartial reflection of Israel. The program includes feature films, dramas, comedies and documentaries that are award-winning and have received wide recognition both in Israel and abroad.

Click on each event for more details and a trailer.

The World is Funny

Fill the Void

By Summer’s End

Life in Stills

Talkback with The Band’s Visit Director

— by Hannah Lee

An addition to this year’s Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia was a showing of the 2007 film, The Band’s Visit, followed by a Q&A with the director, Eran Kolirin.  It was held on April 15 at the new home of the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr.

The film is a bittersweet account of what happens when the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra mistakenly heads to the remote fictional desert town of Bet Hatikva, where there is no Arab Cultural Center (“no Arab Cultural Center, no Israeli culture, no culture”) to stage their concert performance.   They are stranded there, with little Israeli money, until the inter-city bus arrives the next day.  Despite the tension between their two countries, they’re greeted with a range of generous and grudging hospitality.

More including trailer after the jump.

The Band’s Visit won eight Israeli Ophir Prizes awarded by the Israeli Film Academy.  Rotten Tomatoes reported that 98% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 108 reviews, and gave it a golden tomato for best foreign film of 2008.

Deborah Baer Mozes, the cultural attach√© for the Israeli embassy, started the Q&A by asking what was the director’s inspiration?  It was the character of the Egyptian “General” (Lieutenant-Colonel Tawfiq Zacharya, superbly played by the Iraqi Jew, Sasson Gabai) dealing with his inner turmoil, of “something underneath trying to escape.”  Another audience member asked about his inspiration from the Egyptian playwright, Ali Salem, whose “My Drive into Israel” was a memoir of his 1994 trip to Israel following the signing of the Oslo Accord.  Salem later described the trip as not “a love trip, but a serious attempt to get rid of hate.  Hatred prevents us from knowing reality as it is.”  His pro-peace sentiments were controversial and Salem was banned from publication in Egypt afterwards.

An audience member asked why could the characters make phone calls from the public telephone booths without any simonim (Israeli phone tokens)?  The director gave both a practical and a poetic reply: the “142” number sequence allows one to make a collect call without simonim, but it’s far easier to make a phone call without money than to send an Egyptian band to Israel.

Another audience member noted that the filming was done in Yeruham (a desert town in the northern Negev, about 15 km from Dimona).  Kolirin has a fondness for these towns, which were planned to expand settlement into the desert, but which became dismal, forgotten places.  He expressed nostalgia for their architecture, which are gravestones to a grand idea.

How was The Band’s Visit received in the Arab world?  It was banned, of course, but it did get one screening in Cairo and Kolirin travelled there as the guest of the Israeli embassy.  It was a “schizophrenic feeling” for him, as it is a country so much like his own, but still foreign.

An audience member asked about the choice of having some characters being changed by the band’s visit, but Kolirin and other audience members disputed a change, as in whether the Egyptian character Simon completed his concerto overture.  The director said that he was more interested in a change in perspective (including that of the viewer, as in the phantom girlfriend who actually does make a phone connection) than for any external change.

Kolirin’s second film, The Exchange, was shown at the 68th Venice International Film Festival last September and will be released in the United States later this year.

15th Annual Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia

The Matchmaker, directed by Avi Nesher
Saturday, February 26 at 8:00 PM and Sunday, February 27 at 3:00 PM, International House, 3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia
(2010, 112 minutes, Hebrew with English subtitles)

Eight Prize Winning Films Over Six Weeks

The Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia celebrates its 15th Anniversary Season with eight prize-winning films by Israeli filmmakers over a six-week period beginning February 26th with screenings in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs.  The Festival celebrates Israeli cinema with the aim of enriching the American vision of Israeli culture and society through film.  (See our coverage of the Israeli Film Festival in 2006 and 2009.)

Advanced ticket sales are available online.  There are a limited number of free tickets for high school and college students at each screening. Reservations for student tickets can be made online and must picked up one hour prior to each screening.

According to Nurit Yaron, the Film Festival’s chair,

Each season the Israeli Film Festival presents a slate of feature films and documentaries that are carefully selected to represent a diverse reflection of Israel.  It is our goal to celebrate the creativity of Israeli filmmaking and vibrancy of Israeli culture. Our program includes award-winning feature films and documentaries that have received wide recognition both in Israel and abroad.

The Matchmaker

The Festival opens on Saturday, February 26th with The Matchmaker directed by Avi Nesher.  Winner of the 2010 Israeli Film Academy for Best Actor and Best Actress Awards, The Matchmaker is an enchanting coming-of-age tale about the redemptive power of love and the manifold incarnations of friendship.  Yankele Bride, a Holocaust survivor who makes his living as a matchmaker, hires 16-year old Arik to scout potential clients throughout the bustling port city of Haifa.  The quirky characters Arik meets on the job – Clara, a beautiful, fragile woman whom Bride loves from afar; Sylvia, a survivor of Josef  Mengele’s Nazi experiments who yearns for a husband; and Meir, a librarian – open his eyes to a world of wonder, pain and longing.  Avi Nesher made his feature film debut with The Troup and has since made Turn Left at the End of the World (the biggest grossing movie in Israeli history) followed by The Secrets.  The Matchmaker will have two screenings, both at the Philadelphia International House, on Saturday, February 26th at 8:00 PM and again on Sunday, February 27th at 3:00 PM.

Information and trailers about the other seven film after the jump.

Precious Life, directed by Shlomi Eldar
Sunday, February 27 at 7:00 PM, International House, 3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia
(2010, 82 minutes, Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles)

Precious Life

Precious Life, a searing documentary about Israeli/Palestinian relations by Shlomi Eldar, will screen at the Philadelphia International House on Sunday, February 27th at 7:00 PM.  The movie brings to light the plight of a Palestinian baby who was born without an immune system, a genetic disease that had killed his two sisters.  Eldar helps facilitate funds for a bone marrow transplant through an anonymous Israeli donor whose own son had been killed in the Army.  He also documents the drama of the Palestinian doctor taking the matching blood samples across the border checkpoint.  The winner of the Best Documentary from the 2010 Israeli Film Academy, Precious Life highlights the complex dynamics reflecting the personal and political ambiguities in the region.  

Gei Oni, directed by Dan Wolman
Saturday, March 5 at 8:00 PM, Drexel University, Edmond D. Bossone Research Enterprise Center, Mitchell Auditorium, 3128 Market Street, Philadelphia
(2010, 105 minutes, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Arabic with English subtitles)

Gei Oni – Valley of Fortitude

The Festival continues on March 5th at Drexel University’s Mitchell Auditorium with Gei Oni, directed by Dan Wolman and based on the classic novel by Israeli author Shulamit Lapid.  A historical epic, Gei Oni interweaves the story of the first wave of Jewish European migration to Palestine at the end of the 19th century with an unusual love story.  Fania, having escaped the pogroms of Russia, seeks a new life in late 19th century Palestine.  She meets Yechiel, a widower with two young children.  Agreeing to marriage as a means of survival, Fania follows the farmer to a hard pioneer life in his tiny village near the city of Safed.  Gei Oni is a dramatic narrative of the Jewish dream of returning and rebuilding the land of Zion.  Director Dan Wolman will be the guest speaker following the screening.

Lebanon, directed by Samuel Maoz
Sunday, March 13 at 7:00 PM, Bryn Mawr Film Institute, 824 West Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr
(2009, 94 minutes, Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles)


The Festival moves to the Main Line’s Bryn Mawr Film Institute on March 13th with Lebanon, directed by Samuel Maoz.  Taking place during the first Lebanon War in 1982, a novice crew of Israeli soldiers enters the ruins of a Lebanese town previously bombed by the Air Force.  Young men who have never fought before find themselves trapped within a tank as they are thrown into a situation that quickly spins out of control.  Winner of the Golden Lion Award from the 2009 Venice Film Festival, Lebanon was also the winner of the European Discovery Award and the Carlo di Palma Cinematographer Award, both from the 2010 European Film Festival, and Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Sound and Best Supporting Actor, all from the 2009 Israeli Film Academy.  Dr. Elna Yadin, a psychotherapist from Byrn Mawr College, will be the guest speaker after the film.

This is Sodom, directed by Adam Sanderson & Muli Segev
Saturday, March 26 at 8:30PM and Sunday, March 27 at 3:00PM
International House, 3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia
(2010, 88 minutes, Hebrew with English subtitles)

This is Sodom

The Festival returns to the Philadelphia International House with two screenings of the comedy This is Sodom, directed by Adam Sanderson and Muli Segev, on Saturday, March 26th at 8:30 PM and again on Sunday, March 27th at 3:00 PM.  A delightfully raucous, slapstick comedy, This is Sodom reenacts the moment of the birth of the Jewish people, as the patriarch Abraham bargains with God for the life of his nephew, Lot, supposedly the only righteous person in the infamous city of Sodom, the biblical capital of gambling, sex and corruption.  This is Sodom set the record for the most tickets sold for an Israeli movie in its first weekend.

The Human Resources Manager, directed by Eran Riklis
Sunday, March 27 at 7:00 PM, International House, 3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia
(2010, 103 minutes, Hebrew and Romanian with English subtitles)

The Human Resources Manager

Israel’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film, The Human Resources Manager, will be shown on Sunday, March 27th at 7:00 PM at the Philadelphia International House.  Based on the novel by A.B. Yehoshua and directed by Eran Riklis, The Human Resources Manager won Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Soundtrack and Best Supporting Actress, all from the 2010 Israeli Film Academy.  In this touching tragic-comedy, a Human Resource manager at Israel’s largest bakery is blamed for not noticing that one of his employees is missing.  After discovering that the employee is a victim of a suicide bombing, the manager finds himself the unlikely escort of the young woman’s coffin back to her hometown in Romania.  Eran Riklis is the acclaimed director of The Lemon Tree and The Syrian Bride which was screened in Philadelphia at the 2006 Israeli Film Festival.

Missing Father, directed by Yair Elazar
Saturday, April 2 at 8:45 PM, Gratz College, 7605 Old York Road, Melrose Park
(2009, 86 minutes, Hebrew with English subtitles)

Missing Father

Missing Father, a documentary by Yair Elazar, will be screened on Saturday, April 2nd at 8:45 PM at Gratz College.  Decades after the death of Israel’s legendary but discredited Chief of Staff David Elazar (Dado), his youngest son launches a personal investigation into the life of the national celebrity and military genius.  Now a father himself, Yair Elazar feels compelled to understand the father whose many absences from home made him an enigma to his children.  Through a sincere and lucid requiem, the director takes a journey in his father’s footsteps, aiming to penetrate the web of myths shrouding his father’s memory, and to overcome his anger at him for sacrificing family life for a military career.  Yair Elazar will be the guest speaker following the film.

Voices from El-Sayed, directed by Oded Adomi Leshem
Saturday, April 9 at 8:45 PM, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, Jewish Federation Campus, 272 Bryn Mawr Avenue, Bryn Mawr
(2009, 75 minutes, Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles)

Voices from El-Sayed

The Festival concludes on Saturday, April 9th at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy with Voices from El-Sayed directed by Oded Adomi Leshem, winner of the 2009 Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award.   The Bedouin village of El-Sayed in the picturesque Israeli Negev desert is home to the largest percentage of deaf people in the world.  Hearing and non-hearing residents alike live in silence, and all use a variant of sign language adapted over several generations to local needs and habits.  One member’s decision to get a cochlear implant for his son brings into sharp focus how the gift of hearing may feel like the loss of community and identity.  Director of the film, Oded Adomi Leshem, will be the guest speaker following the film.


For further information about the festival or any of the screenings, please call 484-904-5421 or visit the festival’s website.