Magazine article Screen International

Haifa Focus: Highlighting Community, Gender Equality

Magazine article Screen International

Haifa Focus: Highlighting Community, Gender Equality

Article excerpt

The unique appeal of Haifa International Film Festival reflects the attraction of the city itself. "Haifa is the most sane city in Israel and a rare gem, because we are one of the few places in the region where Jews and Arabs live together, side-by-side, peacefully," says festival artistic director Pnina Blayer. "Not only is there co-existence between ethnic and religious groups in our city but also between secular and religious Jews. That spirit of co-existence and tolerance are values the festival promotes wholeheartedly."

The event - now in its 32nd year - not only showcases diverse work, but encourages different communities to work together through initiatives such as the Mix programme, in collaboration with Gesher Film Fund and Israeli Screenwriters' Guild, which mentors mixed Jewish and Arab film-making teams.

The festival's open approach extends beyond Israeli films and guests to the international stage. "We pay close attention to building our artistic schedule on ideals of pluralism and diversity in terms of the topics of films and also new strands in international cinema," says Blayer. "We reflect the multiculturalism of our area and place a strong emphasis on Eastern European and Mediterranean cinema."

Blayer joined the festival at its inception in 1983 and has been artistic director since 1988. Some 50 films were shown at the inaugural edition; that number has risen over the years to nearly 200 films in 2016. The festival's growth is supported by its backers, Israel Film Council, the Ministry of Culture & Sport, the Ministry of Tourism and the Haifa municipality.

The festival's industry offering has also grown in importance over the decades. Now, about 300 local and international industry guests attend the Cinemarket Haifa, receptions, masterclasses and other industry events including a marketing forum about Israeli cinema.

This year's festival also launches virtual reality screenings, in partnership with DocVR workshop and Steamer Salon, both on behalf of the digital media programme at the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University.

GENDER EQUALITY

For the first time in the film festival's history, half of the Israeli features in competition are directed by women, and the documentary competition boasts more female directors than male.

"The result came about organically. My first and most important factor in selecting a film is its cinematic value," says Blayer. "However, there is no doubt that as a woman, I'm very proud that the Israeli cinema competitions reflect an equal number of male and female artists. It is a special source of pride in light of the fact that over many years the female voice was lacking from the map of Israeli feature films. Also, it's important for me that our festival will give a platform to debuts of Arabic film-makers, especially Arabic women directors."

The female directors in the Israeli competition include Hagar Ben-Asher with The Burglar, about a 17-year-old girl who is living on her own when her house is burgled; Rama Burshtein with Through The Wall, a romantic comedy about a bride trying to find a new groom in 30 days; and Maha Haj with Personal Affairs, about several generations of a family in Nazareth.

Another key female film-maker recognised this year is Michal Bat-Adam, who will receive an award and screen her latest film, The Road To Nowhere. "After so many years of work as both an actor and director, we felt she deserved to receive a special award and recognition for her contribution to Israeli cinema," Blayer says.

GLOBAL LINE-UP

This year the festival will present an impressive 85 local films. "Israeli cinema is in a strong position, both locally and internationally," Blayer observes, pointing to festival prizes and international deals for numerous Israeli titles. "For many years, Israeli cinema focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In recent years, what characterises Israeli cinema is a focus on personal stories reflecting the reality of the Israeli experience. …

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