Festival director Netalie Braun.
Festival director Netalie Braun. Courtesy.
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A scene from 'Higher Ground,' directed by Vera Farmiga. Courtesy.
A scene from 'Higher Ground,' directed by Vera Farmiga. Courtesy.

Women and religion will be the theme of the Ninth Annual International Women's Film Festival in Rehovot, which opens on November 5, the festival's management announced on Tuesday.

The week-long festival, a joint initiative of the Women in the Picture Association and the Rehovot municipality, will screen some 60 films directed by women, 33 of them Israeli. There will also be symposia and debates about the relationship between women and religion, with both local and foreign participants.

Among the guests will be Tunisian director and commentator Nadia El Fani, who is coping with Islamist threats on her life. She will present two of her documentaries: "Secularism, Inch'Allah," and "We'll Do No Damage," which deal with the separation of religion and state and the Arab Spring revolutions. Also slated to be screened is the Oscar-winning Pakistani documentary "Saving Face," which deals with a horrifying phenomenon in Pakistan: acid attacks on women whose dress or behavior is deemed immodest.

"In the history of cinema, treatments of faith, heresy, religion and dialogues with God or God's absence have focused primarily on men," said the festival's artistic director, Netalie Braun. "Generally, the female characters have no interest in ideas in general and in metaphysics in particular, and their thoughts are limited to relationships and worrying. This year, we chose to dedicate a large portion of the festival to the connection between women and religion in cinema, in an attempt to spark a complex debate about the representation of women in both secular and religious societies."

For the first time, the festival will include a prize of NIS 25,000 for the best full-length feature film. The contenders are Dana Goldberg's film "Alice," which was screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival, and Hiam Abbass' film "The Inheritance," which was screened at the Haifa Film Festival.

The festival's opening film will be "Higher Ground," directed by Vera Farmiga, an actress closely identified with independent American cinema. The film follows a closed evangelical Christian community that becomes unstable when one of its members begins to question her faith.