TORONTO — When Eran Bester moved to Montreal in 2004, he wanted to find a way to counter the anti-Israel bias of the media.
“I was shocked by the image of Israel portrayed in the media,” says the Tel Aviv-based businessman. “As an Israeli, I wanted people to know that Israel is much more than a country of conflict.”
Bester, who spent two years in Montreal, decided the best way to convey a more positive image of Israel was through the arts and so in 2005, he organized an Israeli film festival.
“If I could have brought in the philharmonic orchestra, I would have. But cinema was a more cost-effective and efficient way to give people exposure to Israeli culture.”
The Montreal Israeli Film Festival, an annual event for the last four years, has been so successful – some 4,000 people attended in 2008 – Bester is launching a similar festival in Toronto this fall.
The inaugural Toronto Israeli Film Festival will run from Oct. 26 to 30 at Sheppard Grande Cinemas at 4861 Yonge St. The public will have the opportunity to see seven films – all are in Hebrew with English subtitles– over five evenings. Two different films will screen each night.
Bester said the recent crop of Israeli films has been very high quality. “The films are all very good and different from each other. I feel they are the pick of the crop of Israeli cinema.”
He added that “the films are very innovative” and have been well received at international film festivals.
The Toronto Israeli Film Festival will include Beaufort, which was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign film in 2008. The co-writer of Beaufort’s screenplay, Ron Leshem, will be in Toronto for the festival.
“I am very excited to be hosting this talented writer and film-maker,” Bester says.
The acclaimed film is a screen adaptation of Leshem’s award-winning book of the same name, which garnered the 2006 Sapir Prize, Israel’s top literary award. He will give a lecture and host a Q and A session at the 6:30 p.m. screenings of Beaufort on Oct. 26 and Oct. 29.
Noodle, the opening film of the festival – its first screening is 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 26 – is a fundraiser organized by Women in Motion. The proceeds will be going to the One Family Fund, an Israeli-based charity for victims of terror.
Bester says that he wanted one of the festival screenings to be a charitable event in support of an Israeli charity. “I am very happy that the fundraiser is for One Family. The organization really does excellent work.”
Other films to be shown at the festival are Lost Islands, The Debt, Three Mothers, Lemon Tree and The Secrets.
Bester hopes the festival will attract unaffiliated Jews, whom, he says, are not well informed about Israel. He also wants to reach students and other young people.
There will be a free screening of Lost Islands on Oct. 25 for Taglit-Birthright Israel alumni. The screening is tentatively booked for 9 p.m. at the Regent Theatre at 551 Mount Pleasant Ave.
As well, if a film has not sold out and seats are available five minutes before the show, students with proper identification will get free admission.
The festival is a non-profit venture, which he describes as a “win-win situation” for the Toronto Jewish community and for Israel.
“This is a labour of love for me. At the end of the film, I’m standing at the exit to see how the film was received,” he says.
“When people are excited about an Israeli film, I feel like the father of the bride. That is my reward.”
For tickets, call 416-364-9973. Tickets are $13 each or $65 for all seven films. For festival updates, check www.israelfilmfestival.ca.