Two Palestinian directors are vying for the Brian Bronfman Family Foundation Prize for Peace with their very different fictional takes on Israeli-Palestinian relations, at the 47th Festival du nouveau cinema (FNC), which opened Oct. 3 and runs until Oct. 14.
In Tel Aviv on Fire, director Sameh Zoabi uses satirical comedy to show how politics permeates even the most unlikely situations in Israel, while Muayad Alayan delves into forbidden love in the thriller, The Reports on Sarah and Saleem.
In the former, a young Palestinian living in Jerusalem writes for the popular TV soap opera Tel Aviv on Fire, which is produced in Ramallah for a Palestinian audience, but is liked by Israelis, as well.
The series is set in 1967, just months before the Six-Day War and involves a supposed liaison between a female Palestinian spy and an Israeli general.
One day, while passing through the checkpoint to get to his job, the Israeli commander, whose wife is a big fan of the show, suggests a new plot twist that would change the season finale. The screenwriter uses it, realizing that the Israeli colonel’s ideas are better than any of his own. However, the pro-Israel outcome does not go down so well with the series’ producers.
Born in a Palestinian village near Nazareth in 1975, Zoabi graduated from Tel Aviv University with a degree in film studies and English literature. He then received a Fulbright Fellowship to study at Columbia University. He is currently teaching at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
In his first feature film, 33-year-old director Muayad Alayan, who is based in Jerusalem, imagines the consequences of a furtive extramarital affair between a Jewish woman and a Palestinian man in the Holy City.
After they are discovered, it becomes clear that more than their marriages are at stake. The security services on both sides of the conflict become suspicious, given that Sarah’s husband is an IDF officer.
The Reports on Sarah and Saleem and Tel Aviv on Fire are presented in Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles. They are among 13 films in the panorama international section that are in the running for the $2,000 Bronfman prize.
Elsewhere at the FNC, there are four entries from Israel in the international short films competition: Shmama, directed by Miki Polonski, is about a troubled mother-daughter relationship; Stranger of the Dunes by Tamar Baruch follows an Eritrean refugee who makes his way into a rural community in southern Israel; and Nitzan Rozen’s Cracks focuses on a woman who uncovers a secret about her husband while pregnant with her first child. They are vying for the $5,000 Silver Wolf prize.
In another category for experimental short films called les nouveaux alchimistes is Solomon Nagler’s 10-minute Genizah: Passages From the Lublin Book Graveyard. The Winnipeg native has captured images from the genizah, or storage place for worn-out sacred Jewish books, in that Polish city.
Three episodes of an Israeli TV series that deals with autism are also being screened. On the Spectrum features three young adults with autism finding their way in the world. It was shown at Series Mania, a prestigious annual event for television in Lille, France, earlier this year.
Israel is also represented in the new technologies section by Assaf Machness’s Borderline, a nine-minute virtual reality experience based on a confusing true encounter on the Israeli-Egyptian frontier.
Among documentaries is Chuck Smith’s Barbara Rubin & The Exploding NY Underground, which pays tribute to the experimental American filmmaker who died at age 35 in 1980.
Rubin is said to have influenced the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol.
Legendary avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas, who hired Rubin in 1963 and saved all her papers, collaborated on the film.
The FNC is screening the Canadian classic, Lies My Father Told Me, free of charge, in homage to its producer, Harry Gulkin, who died in July at age 93. The 1975 movie, directed by Jan Kadar, is the story of a Jewish boy in Montreal in the 1920s and his touching relationship with his pedlar grandfather.
FNC is hailing Gulkin as “a bridge-builder respected as much among francos as anglos … who helped spearhead such Québécois offerings as Denys Arcand’s Les invasions barbares and François Girard’s Cargo.”
More than 300 films from 62 countries are being shown. For full details, visit nouveaucinema.ca.