The Australia Israel Cultural Exchange (AICE) has been presenting the Israeli film Festival for ten years now. Keith Lawrence, who has been involved since the inception and co-curates this year’s line-up, says that the rise of the festival has coincided with a renaissance in the Israeli film industry. “Ten years ago no one would have thought to go see an Israeli film,” he says, “but with Oscar-nominated films like The Band’s Visit and Footnote, Israeli film is in vogue.”
An Oscar-nominated documentary, The Gatekeepers, is essential viewing in the 2013 line-up. The film has six former members of the Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security organisation, spilling the kind of state secrets that are would usually come via a Bradley Manning or an Edward Snowden. “Let’s just say that Prime Minister Netanyahu is furious that it was made,” says Lawrence.
At least eight films screening represent a fascinating recent trend in Israel’s filmmaking: the rise of Palestinian stories. “In the past people have criticised the lack of films in the festival about relations between Israelis and Palestinians but that’s simply because the films hadn’t been made, whereas this year there’s quite a big representation.”
In Michael Mayer’s drama Out in the Dark, a Palestinian student falls in love with an Israeli lawyer in Tel Aviv but has his student visa revoked. It’s a story highlighting the desperate plight of gay Palestinians, who face execution if found out. “It’s the Brokeback Mountain of Israeli film,” Lawrence says.
Stephen Dorff stars in Zaytoun, a story set during the 1980s Lebanese War that was voted the second most popular film at the Toronto Film Festival last year (after Silver Linings Playbook). “It’s a real crowd pleaser. Dorff plays an Israeli pilot shot down over Lebanon, and a 12-year-old Palestinian kid tries to help him get back to Israel.” Documentary Good Garbage, meanwhile,exposes the daily struggle for subsistence of 200 Palestinian families who trawl the Hebron Hills rubbish dump. “It’s challenging, gritty, and quite extraordinary,” Lawrence says.
Actress Hiam Abbass makes her directorial debut with Inheritance, the story of a middle-class Palestinian family in Haifa gathering for a wedding and dealing with family conflicts. It demonstrates the particular problems of Israeli Arabs. “What’s confusing for outsiders is that there is something like a million Arabs who live within the borders and have Israeli passports, many of whom refer to themselves as Palestinians,” says Lawrence.
“Nothing in the Middle East, and Israel in particular, is simple or straightforward, and part of the motivation behind the film festival is to reveal to Australian audiences what it’s all about.”
AICE Israeli Film Festival Palace Cinema Como, Kino Cinemas and Palace Brighton Bay, Aug 14-27.