The opening of the Israeli Film Festival at Palace Cinema tomorrow night will be a celebration of Middle Eastern culture, with entertainment from local musician Shai Shriki, gypsy guitarist, oud player, singer and multi-instrumentalist. Shai’s truly authentic sound and voice invoke desert landscapes and cultures, taking the audience on a journey of sound, emotion and dance. Shai will be playing some of his original music together with traditional and contemporary Hebrew songs for the opening night audience from 6.15pm, while they also enjoy orgasmic falafels from Byron’s own ‘falafel palace’.
After Shai’s live performance, the opening night film The Ballad of The Weeping Spring screens at 7pm. Described as an Israeli ‘Magnificent Seven’ – and perhaps the first-ever Falafel Western! – this is a touching and funny film featuring spellbinding music from the region, including oud (Middle Eastern stringed instrument), tar (Persian lute) and kamancheh (Persian fiddle). Josef Tawila is traversing the northern Israel countryside in search of the best musicians he can find to perform the world premiere of the title ballad, written more than 20 years earlier but never performed.
The AICE (Australia Israel Cultural Exchange) Israeli Film Festival continues on Friday night with Big Bad Wolves, a ‘deeply brilliant, surprisingly funny Israeli revenge thriller’ (Indiewire) about a series of murders, that explores the unsettling scenario of the lengths men will go when pushed too far.
From Oscar-nominated documentaries to award-winning features, from challenging dramas to crowd-pleasing comedies, the festival showcases the best of Israeli cinema to Australian audiences. The films screening at the festival explore the myriad of stories emerging from one of the most diverse and multiracial countries in the world. Many are shaped by politics; many are personal but overwhelmingly they celebrate the stories of people’s lives. Festival co-curator Keith Lawrence said, ‘the festival continues to highlight not only the breadth and strength of the Israeli film industry, but also presents the broad spectrum of Israeli society and everyday issues. A common thread in many of the films this year is that of the concerns of young adults – social, sexual and political – whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim.’
In the multi-award-winning A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, 17-year-old Tal is the daughter of recent French immigrants to Israel, living in Jerusalem. Following a bomb attack on a local cafe, she throws a bottle into the sea near Gaza with a message asking for an explanation. Naim, a sensitive 20-year-old Palestinian, discovers the bottle and tries to answer Tal’s question by initiating an email correspondence. Their mutual suspicion soon develops into a tender friendship. Only 60 miles separate the two, yet their lives are worlds apart. But the film is fuelled neither by anger nor extremism. Instead the two youngsters are forced to acknowledge the impossibly complex situation and eventually impact on each other in ways neither could have expected.
The poignant, emotional and deeply sensual Slower Than a Heartbeat explores the relationship between Lily, a successful novelist now suffering from writer’s block, who sets out to seduce Nino, a handsome but mysterious actor, and turn him into the subject of her next book, and Nino’s best friend Freddy, an ultra-orthodox who moonlights as a gay drag queen and is himself in love with Nino.
Other highlights of the festival include Zaytoun, a touching drama about a friendship between a Palestinian orphan and a captured Israeli fighter pilot starring Stephen Dorff, and Six Acts, an edgy and perceptive portrait of an Israeli teen girl recently described as ‘one of the best films in the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival’. The critically lauded, award-winning documentary The Gatekeepers, directed by Dror Moreh, was nominated for Best Documentary at the 2013 Academy Awards, and won the Best Documentary LA Film Critics award and the Cinema for Peace Award in Berlin. It includes interviews with all surviving former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security agency whose activities and membership are normally closely held state secrets.
Closing the festival on the evening of Wednesday 28 is the classic 1960 drama Exodus. Starring Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint and Sir Ralph Richardson, this Academy Award winning epic film about the formation of the State of Israel, seen primarily through the eyes of an American nurse, is based on the best-selling novel by Leon Uris.
AICE Israeli Film Festival, Palace Byron Bay Cinema, August 22–28. More information, session times and tickets are available at Palace Cinema or online at www.aiceisraelifilmfestival.com.