A scene from the movie 'Fill the Void.'
A scene from the movie 'Fill the Void.' Photo by Daniel Tchetchik
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The film "Fill the Void," directed by ultra-Orthodox Rama Burshtein, swept seven prizes at the Ophir Awards ceremony in Haifa on Friday afternoon.

The film snagged prizes for best director, best screenplay and best film, securing its place as Israel's entry for the Oscar in this year's foreign-language film category.

The two lead actresses also won prizes. Hadas Yaron, who won the best actress award in the Venice Film Festival earlier this month, won the Ophir for best actress as well. Irit Sheleg, who plays her mother, won the prize for best supporting actress.

The film, produced by Assaf Amir with the support of the Israel Film Fund, also won the prizes for best cinematography (Asaf Sudri ) and make-up (Etti Bin Nun ).

Burshtein, who lives in Tel Aviv, became religious a few months after completing her film studies. For years she made films and taught filmmaking to ultra-Orthodox women. "Fill the Void," her first film for a general audience, is about a young ultra-Orthodox woman in Tel Aviv whose world is turned upside down when her elder sister dies in childbirth.

The best actor award went to Roy Assaf for his performance in Meni Yaesh's film, "God's Neighbors." The lifetime achievement award went to screenwriter Eli Tavor.

The Ophir Awards ceremony, held by the Israeli Film Academy, was marked this year by the stormy debate over proposed changes in the criteria for funding films and other bodies in the film industry.

"I beg you, don't touch the Film Law," Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, one of the law's sponsors, said to the audience.

"Let's think culture and economics, not only politics," said Eitan Evan, president of the Israeli Academy of Film and Television. "You don't have to reinvent the wheel but to leverage what there is."

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, who awarded the prize for best film, said 11 years had passed since the Film Law was enacted and it was time to update it. "We must stop, look back, learn lessons and see what can be improved," Livnat said.

She said the Film Council decided last Thursday to give filmmakers an extension until October 16 to submit their comments and enable them to present their views in person as well.

In accepting the award for best film, producer Amir said: "Israeli cinema grows from the grassroots, and the grassroots made the Film Law and the grassroots prove that all hues of the Israeli public receive a stage in Israeli film." He cited Israeli films from the past year as examples: "Fill the Void" about the ultra-Orthodox, "Hayuta and Berl" about an elderly couple, "Sharqiya" about the Bedouins in the Negev, "God's Neighbors" about people who have found religion and "The World is Funny," which takes place in Tiberias.