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The organizers of the 22nd Haifa International Film Festival had to prepare this year during the war in the North, under a barrage of Katyusha rockets.

"We experienced 40 very difficult days and the situation, of course, had an effect. True, we managed to work, but it was much more complicated than it had been in previous years," says Pnina Blayer, the festival's artistic director. The biggest problem in the wake of the war was that it became more difficult to persuade guests to come and participate in the festival, she says. Brian De Palma, for example, was supposed to premiere his film "The Black Dahlia" at the festival. He decided to cancel his visit because of the war.

But despite the difficulties, visitors will be able to see movies screened at major international festivals - including Cannes, Venice and Berlin - and Israeli feature and documentary films; to meet young directors; to see groundbreaking films; and to become acquainted with movies far from the Hollywood mainstream.

The festival will open this Saturday and continue for eight days. Sixty-seven new Israeli films and 150 new international films will be screened. "The Fountain," the new film of Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for a Dream"), about men struggling to save their lovers during three different eras - in 16th-century Spain, the present and the 26th century - will open the festival.

This year once again, the focus of the festival will be the competition for the best Israeli feature film. Six movies have been nominated. "The Galilee Eskimos," directed by Jonathan Paz, tells the story of residents of a kibbutz old-age home who wake up one day to find the other kibbutz members have left because of debts. The protagonists must fight a contractor who wants to drive them out to set up a sports and recreation village.

Ariel Talpalar's "Different Sky" presents the love story of a young Palestinian and a Brazilian foreign worker trying to survive in Israel. "Summer vacation," directed by David Volach, describes three days of preparations for a trip to the Dead Sea by the ultra-Orthodox protagonist and his family, who find themselves in a situation reminiscent of the sacrifice of Isaac. "Melanoma My Love," directed by Joseph Madmony and David Ofek (the creators of the TV series "Bat Yam-New York") tells the story of a young woman diagnosed with skin cancer, and how she and her partner cope with the news that she has three months to live. "Nuzhat al-Fuad," a new film by Judd Ne'eman, his first after 17 years of silence, tells the story of two young women who face an emotional roller coaster that leads them to the brink of insanity. Yitshak Grad's film "Foul Gesture" portrays a fight between two drivers on Holocaust memorial day, and how this completely changes one of their lives.

Sixteen Israeli documentary films will be taking part in another competition, and local shorts, animations and dramas from the past year will also be presented. One intriguing Israeli project is "Women Speak Love," created by graduates of Al-Manar College in Taibeh and Tel Aviv University's film department. This series of short documentary films focuses on details from the lives, loves and intimate relationships of the creators. Six of these films will be presented at the project's opening, scheduled for during the festival.

This year, the festival will honor the director and researcher Yehuda (Judd) Ne'eman for his unique contribution to Israeli cinema. In addition to "Nuzhat al-Fuad," other films of his will be screened - "Observation on Acco," "Ja Brechen! Seamen's Strike" and "Shehezade's Tears"- and he will participate in a panel examining his cinematic contribution in the context of the formative nature of trauma in contemporary Israeli society.

Another event that will discuss the Israeli creative oeuvre is an "emergency panel" that Blayer says was set up in the wake of the drastic cuts to the budgets allocated for films by various government bodies. This panel will examine the future of Israeli drama and will try to determine whether this category can survive under current conditions.

The festival organizers are proud of the fact that every year, the program includes a tribute to the history of cinema. "We are the only festival that still does so," says Blayer. "And we make sure to devote a corner to the roots of our new cinema." And indeed, the festival will salute the contribution of two directors who have left an indelible mark on filmmaking. The first is Sam Peckinpah, an important figure in the American film world. He began working as a director in the 1960s, and presented a new way of examining concepts such as machismo, violence and Western heroes.

Five of Peckinpah's films will be screened at the Haifa festival - "The Wild Bunch," "Straw Dogs," "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" and "Convoy" - as well as three documentary films about him and his work, including "Requiem for Billy the Kid," directed by Anne Feinsilber. This film was aired at the Cannes Festival this year and examines the myths behind the Wild West as well as the gradual decline of the Western genre.

The festival will include a salute to one of the forerunners of Italian neo-realism, Roberto Rossellini, marking 100 years since his birth. His daughter Isabella Rossellini will not be attending ("We spoke to her, we invited her, but in the end she was unable to come for personal reasons," says Blayer) but another child of his will be there - his son, the composer and producer Renzo Rossellini. The son directed his father's films before the elder Rossellini died, and afterward worked with other film giants including Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky and Federico Fellini. Renzo Rossellini will participate in a panel led by Nissim Dayan on the heritage, life and oeuvre of his father.

It will be interesting to see the documentary film "Once Upon a Time - Rome, Open City," which was screened at the Cannes festival this year. The film reconstructs the production of Rossellini's 1945 award-winning film, "Rome, Open City," one of the first films made in Italy after World War II. The film won world-wide success and laid the foundations for Italian neo-realism, characterized by a documentary appearance, natural lighting, on-location scenes, non-professional actors, simple everyday stories and a social focus.

Two competitions at the festival will grant prizes to foreign films - the Mediterranean Golden Anchor Competition for films shot around the Mediterranean, which has 10 nominees; and the Fipresci Competition for new directors, which also has 10 nominees, of which one will be chosen by an international panel of judges. Interesting films in these categories include Rachid Bouchareb's "Days of Glory," a French-Algerian-Moroccan-Belgian co-production, which was screened at the last Cannes festival and whose actors jointly received the prize for Best Actor. The film tells the story of four soldiers of Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan descent who fight in the arrogant French army during World War II. Another film, "Flanders," by the French director Bruno Dumont, also participated in the Cannes competition and won the Grand Jury Prize. It tells the story of a downtrodden French farmer who is called to leave his home to join the army and fight in a far-off desert country off the Mediterranean coast. In the film "Comedy of Power," which participated in the Berlin film festival, the veteran French director Claude Chabrol once again collaborates with the actress Isabelle Huppert. Chabrol's 55th film tells how a judge investigating the activities of a CEO uncovers corruption and falls into difficult situations.

Another intriguing film is "13," the first film by Gela Babluani of Georgia, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance festival and the Lion of the Future award at the Venice Biennale. The hero of the film is Sebastian, a 20-year-old immigrant living with his family and scraping by. He hears of a way to earn money easily, and winds up adopting the identity of a dead drug addict.

Tickets cost NIS 37 per film, with discounts for students, pensioners and others. The complete program can be found on the festival's Web site, www.haifaff.co.il. The festival will close next Saturday with "Hollywoodland," the first film by director Allen Coulter. Ben Affleck won the award for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for his role in this film.