Arts, TV, hope and films by women headline the 2018 Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema

From Oct. 18-28, the 13th Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema will present feature films, documentaries, shorts and TV series mostly made in Israel by Israelis (three films this year are made by an Irish woman, a British woman and two Dutch guys), during the past 12 months. Some of the films deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but most do not. All provide a window into Israel’s fascinating, diverse everyday culture; its art and artists, its mindset and mood at this moment in time.

The Arts

Anyone who has ever visited the Israel Museum, or any museum for that matter, will love the Festival’s Opening Night event, on Thursday, October 18 — the Midwest Premiere of Ran Tal’s ‘The Museum,’ with the current and former directors of the Israel Museum, Ido Bruno and James Snyder, plus Ran Tal in person. The film sheds light not only on the incredible paintings, sculptures, artifacts and other displays of the most important museum in Israel and one of the most esteemed museums in the world, but also on the colorful palette of people who work and visit there. The evening will include a pre-screening reception and a post-screening Q&A with the special guests.

Continuing the artistic theme, Stephane Kaas and Rutger Lamm loved reading writer Etgar Keret’s stories as kids in their native Amsterdam—as so many people of all ages have world-wide because his humanity transcends borders—and decided to make a film about him called ‘Etgar Keret: Based on a True Story.’ It will be shown in a documentary double feature—with Tel Aviv LIVE!, about what it means to be an artist in Tel Aviv today, on October 21 and 28 at 11:30 a.m. at the ArcLight Cinemas in The Glen, Glenview. Many have read Etgar’s work in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or the New Yorker; seen him in person on one of his U.S. tours, or heard him on NPR’s This American Life with Ira Glass.

Another international sensation from Israel is Ofer Raul Graizer’s award-winning ‘The Cakemaker.’ It is a moving must-see about an artist of a culinary nature, a baker in Berlin and his relationship with an Israeli couple–first with the husband, and then with his wife and her family.

TV

Training a spotlight on Israeli television, the Festival presents ‘Big Ideas for the Small Screen: The Golden Age of Israeli Television’ on October 22 at Spertus in the city, hosted by Spertus, Anshe Emet Synagogue and the Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies at Northwestern University.

One of the guests will be the former President of Programming for HBO, Michael Lombardo. Who better to articulate what makes good television—period—than the guy who green-lighted many of the best shows, series, mini-series and made-for-TV movies of all time—‘True Blood,’ ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Silicon Valley,’ ‘Girls,’ ‘Veep,’ ‘Westworld,’ ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,’ and ‘Too Big to Fail’ among them. And he is executive-producing ‘The Summer of 2014, ‘about the three young boys from a settlement who were kidnapped and killed that is currently filming in Israel.  

Lombardo will take part in an expert panel following the screenings of the first episodes of two internationally award-winning Israeli dramedies, ‘On the Spectrum’ and ‘Significant Other’ (Kacha Zeh).  Other members of the panel include Shlomo Mashiach, the co-creator and writer of ‘Your Honor;’ Dana Modan, co-creator, writer and star of ‘Significant Other’ and Michael Fisch, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Social Sciences at the University of Chicago whose research explores the changing conceptualization of culture.

The Festival will also present the Israeli hit—and internationally award-winning series—‘Your Honor’ (Kvodo), screening the entire 12 episodes of its first and only season, six 35-minute episodes each, over two consecutive Saturday nights, October 20 and 27. It’s about a stand-up judge, about to win an important election, when his son is involved in a hit-and-run accident, and the cover-up snowballs. The co-creator and sole writer of the series, Shlomo Mashiach, will be at both screenings.

Hope

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Festival will present Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan’s ‘The Oslo Diaries’ on Sunday, October  21 at the ArcLight in The Glen. The documentary is a behind-the-scenes look at how the 1993 Accords came about. The special in-person guest for the screening is chief negotiator of the Oslo Accords, Joel Singer, who will be interviewed by Professor Elie Rekhess of Northwestern University’s Crown Center Israel Studies department. Singer was also instrumental in negotiating the 1995 Oslo II agreement.

The Festival is also presenting the world premiere of Racheli Schwartz’s documentary ‘The Syrian Patient.’ Many people may have heard, that for years, Syrian civilians injured in their country’s civil war have been smuggled into Israel for life-saving medical treatment, but now they can see this humanitarian effort for themselves. The bonds formed between patients and doctors, nurses and staff of Israeli hospitals, Magen David Adom EMTs and IDF soldiers are heartwarming. Racheli Schwartz will attend both screenings at the ArcLight in The Glen and take part in Q&As. What brings her story even closer to home is that Am Shalom synagogue in Glencoe adopted a Syrian refugee family and two sisters from that family will speak at the Sunday, October 21 screening. Local representatives of Magen David Adom will speak at the Tuesday, October 23 screening.

Action lovers will appreciate Mike Burstyn’s ‘Azimuth,’ a drama set in the Sinai at the end of the Six Day War. It’s about two soldiers and an Egyptian who are trapped together in a bunker, hoping to best the other and take off in a get-away jeep, even as they flash back to their peaceful and loving civilian lives. Burstyn, who also wrote the screenplay, said he tossed around the idea of the film in his head for over 50 years. Ironically, the actors are the sons of real-life Israeli and Egyptian soldiers who fought against each other in 1967 and 1973.

Films By Women

One of the things that makes the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema unique is that it has always honored and celebrated the work of women directors. On Wednesday, October 24 at the ArcLight in The Glen, in a program named Israeli Women in Shorts, the Festival has put together five Israeli short films—all about women, and all Chicago premieres.  

Topics range from ‘Compartments,’ an animated film about a woman who moves to Berlin, and the conversations she has with her father, the son of Holocaust survivors, to a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor who consistently wins the Purim costume contest at her retirement home (Tamir Elterman’s ‘Spring Chicken’) to an IDF commander who receives a come-on from one of her recruits (Atara Frisch’s ‘The Love Letter’) to a gem about a young woman and her gay friend who run into Mr. Wrong on a night out (Tom Nesher’s ‘Albi and Alma,’) to Oran Zegman’s ‘Rebel,’ about a Greek-Israeli woman in 1950s South Tel Aviv who is abused by her husband and wants out, despite societal pressures. Oran Zegman will join us in person for a Q&A. She actually made ‘Rebel’ about her grandmother.

Festival audiences will also see the Chicago Premiere of Catherine Lurie-Alt’s ‘Back to Berlin.’ The film tells the story of motorcycle riders who retrace the journey of a group who rode throughout Europe recruiting participants for the first Maccabia Games in what was then Palestine in 1931. Over 80 years later, descendants and others connected to the original riders start out in Israel and head for the first Maccabia in Berlin, in the same stadium Hitler built for the 1936 Olympics. Along the way, at stops in several European countries, they describe their family’s experience during the Shoah and what they make of Europe’s anti-Israel and anti-Semitic climate today.

Through personal interviews and archival footage, Fiona Murphy’s ‘Remember Baghdad’ recalls the 20th century lives of Jews in Iraq (part of a 2,600-year tradition that included court musicians, lavish parties and other social and business interactions) before the entire community was forced to emigrate when Israel became a State.

‘Touching the Sky’ by Tamar Tal-Anati follows six recent recruits—all women—of the Israeli Air Force’s prestigious flight school as they pursue their dream of becoming a pilot. It originally appeared as a series on Israeli TV

Rounding Out the Program

Those specifically looking for feature films in general and rom-coms in particular will be especially delighted with Roee Florentin’s ‘And Then She Arrived.’  It’s about a handsome, 30-something Ashkenazi guy who follows a life and career path that’s expected of him until he accidentally meets a moped-driving mama that rocks his world. It stars ‘Shtisel’ heartthrob Michael Aloni, Chen Amsalem and two very funny ladies from ‘The Women’s Balcony,’ Orna Banai and Einat Sarouf.

Lastly, Arik Lubetsky’s timely #MeToo film, ‘Fractures,’ will be screened at the ArcLight in The Glen on October 24 and 28.

For tickets, trailers and more, go to israelifilmchi.org.

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