One of the two main festivals in the region, this year’s edition of the Jerusalem Film Festival opened with an undeniable sense of glamour and glitter. Not one, but two authentic modern movie legends were there to open the event: Pedro Almodovar and Quentin Tarantino. The Spanish director wasn’t actually present, but his actresses and his latest film, Julieta, were. Quentin Tarantino, on the other hand, was there to accept a lifetime achievement award, his presence lending an excitement and a whiff of pure entertainment to the proceedings. The presence of the superstar Tarantino as the guest of honor at the opening ceremony, proved yet again the JFF's capacity to attract world famous names, despite the unnecessary, very political and widely panned speech by the rightwing minister of culture, that served as a none too subtle reminder of the tense political climate in the region.
After this eventful opening, the program settled on a now familiar and efficient pace. There seem to be two sides to the festival: one acts as a kind of intermediary between the region and the biggest international film festivals (Berlin, Cannes), the other as a more demanding tool for finding and launching new, sometimes uncompromising, auteurs, from Israel and elsewhere. In the first section, one could find many of the highlights of last year’s Cannes, such as the above mentioned Julieta, and also the latest from Nicolas Winding Refn and Bruno Dumont. In the second category were included first features by directors already noticed (the most obvious example was Asaph Polonsky's One Week and a day), or waiting to be discovered, such as Rara's Chilean director Pepa San Martin and the Israeli Guy Raz who directed We had a Forest. The result was a quite ambitious panorama of auteur cinéma in 2016, which seemed to embrace every part of the globe, giving us the feeling of a pitch perfect picture of what the international art house films are at this precise point.
Now in its 33rd year, the JFF also has the goal of becoming a major industry event for the Middle East. Even though it doesn’t have a proper screening market, the presence, and the rich program, of the Jerusalem Film Lab is important, allowing many projects as well as many professionals the opportunity to meet and greet. Producers, actors and distributors came together (including some without a movie to promote) and the vast array of selections moved it closer to the industry gathering point it aims to be. The prizes put forward two movies that were already revealed in Cannes but could still use the limelight: La Mort de Louis XIV, and the Israeli One Week and a Day. The second part of the festival, which is almost entirely industry free, is a welcome reminder of the fact that the festival's main ambition remains the public, which is offered a chance to see challenging films that would not get commercial distribution in the country's cinemas. (Pierre-Simon Gutman, edited by Yael Shuv)
Jerusalem Film Festival: www.jff.org.il