The 2020 Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia will open March 7 at the Philadelphia Film Center, with audiences able to watch films at a variety of venues during the three weeks until closing night March 29.
This is the program’s 24th year.
Opening night will feature a screening of Yaron Zilberman’s “Incitement,” which is based on the life of Yigal Amir, the law student who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin.
“This is one of the most powerful films submitted to us this year,” IFF Chair Nurit Yaron said. “Incitement will give the audience a unique window onto this particular time in Israel’s history and how the assassination of Rabin changed the political tone in the country.”
Yehuda Nahava Halevi, who was nominated for Best Actor in the Israeli Film Awards for his portrayal of Amir, will be the guest speaker on opening night.
Other IFF guest speakers include Eran Naim, a police officer who stars in Yaron Shani’s “Chained,” and Israeli politician and scholar Yossi Beilin, who will speak at the screening of Sagi Bornstein, Udi Nir and Shani Rozanes’ documentary “Golda.” Academic Noa Lavie will conduct a Q&A session about immigration to Israel after Dina Zvi Riklis’ documentary “Ma’abarot.”
Most of the IFF films have appeared in at least one of the three major Israeli film festivals — DocAviv, Jerusalem Film Festival or Haifa Film Festival. The Philadelphia board received 40 submissions this year, and 13 will be screened.
Yaron is responsible for identifying films and presenting them to the festival board for selection.
“I live in Israel, which is helpful in building relationships and ensuring we can access the best films,” Yaron said. ““It gives me a unique opportunity to personally connect with Israeli directors, filmmakers and distributors.”
According to festival coordinator Hava Grunwald, IFF is well-known in the Israeli film industry, and distributors regularly send films for consideration.
“Sometimes they even send us films before they are released in theaters and use the festival to introduce them,” Grunwald said.
The board decides which films will open and close the festival. According to Mindy Chriqui, IFF’s founder and artistic director, they do not look for particular genres or themes, but prioritize overall quality.
“Genre does not play a role in this. We do, however, have many films where women are front and center,” Chriqui said of this year’s program. “Five out of 13 films this year are women-centric, which may be serendipitous but may also reflect changes in the film industry.”
Women’s stories feature prominently in this year’s documentaries.
“Golda” focuses on Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s political career, while Dalit Kimor’s “Mrs. G” tells the story of Holocaust survivor Lea Gottlieb and her creation of the world-famous swimsuit company, Gottex.
The festival will also screen several dramas with female protagonists.
Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon’s “Flawless” is the story of a young transgender high school student who travels to Ukraine with her friends to get plastic surgery. Itay Tal’s “The God of the Piano” depicts a young woman whose plans to have her child become an accomplished pianist are thrown into disarray when her son is born deaf.
The board decides how to place the films in theaters and tailor films to different audiences — they may show a different film in Center City than at Gratz College, for example. The strongest films are allocated to the largest venues.
Historically, the festival opened at International House, a venue that recently closed.
“This year, we are opening at Philadelphia Film Center, which used to be known as the Prince,” Chriqui said. “We are very excited because it’s beautiful and has 100 more seats than we’re used to.”
While the format of the IFF has remained consistent over the years, this festival will differ from previous ones by presenting a rare Israeli cinema genre — comedy.
“We actually have comedies this year, which is unbelievable,” said Yaron, referring to Jorge Weller’s “Love in Suspenders” and Guy Amir and Hanan Savyon’s “Forgiveness.”
Grunwald noted that it was unusual for the festival to screen lighthearted films.
“Many movies and documentaries out of Israel deal with sadness, the army, loss. It’s hard to find comedies,” she said.
According to Chriqui, the solemnity of Israeli film stems from filmmakers’ desires to challenge their audiences.
“Israeli filmmakers are not always looking for happy endings. Sometimes things are left undone or ambiguous because they want to stimulate conversation.”
Grunwald believes that everyone who attends the festival will find a movie that interests them.
IFF tickets are available at iffphila.com.
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