Israeli Arab Director's 'Tel Aviv on Fire' Wins Best Picture Award at Haifa Film Festival

Judges say Sameh Zoabi's film provides a 'surprising viewpoint on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict'

A scene from the movie 'Tel Aviv on Fire'
Patricia Peribáñez

“Tel Aviv on Fire,” a film directed by Sameh Zoabi, won the prize for best Israeli film at the 34th Haifa International Film Festival on Saturday. It also won the award for the best screenplay. The best documentary film award went to Asaf Galay’s “Army of Lovers in the Holy Land.”

The 100,000 shekels ($25,600) prize was awarded to Zoabi’s film, produced by Amir Harel and Ayelet Kait. It is a comedy about an intern working on a soap opera filmed in Ramallah, who one day is promoted to writing the show. Because he finds it difficult to write, he enlists an Israeli officer at the checkpoint he passes daily to help him, and pays the officer in hummus for the advice he gives.

“The film is a humoristic and original breakthrough. A surprising perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that addresses both narratives, from a subversive and refreshing place,” was how the festival’s judges justified their choice for best Israeli film. The “wild, accurate and sharp characters collaborate in the existential absurdity that the occupation bequeaths. The subversive and original approach of the film could well communicate with the new and younger generation that has despaired of the search for known political solutions and has chosen to cut themselves off.”

Joseph El-Dror’s film, “No Blood,” (produced by Liran Atzmor) was awarded the prize for the best Israeli debut film, while the best actress award went to Laliv Sivan for her performance in Yaron Shani’s “Love Trilogy: Stripped.” Shani’s film also won the prize for best film editing.

The best actor prize was awarded to Naveh Tzur for his performance in Marco Carmel’s “Noble Savage.” Tzur also won the Award for Artistic Achievement in an Israeli Feature Film from the Federation of Film Critics of Europe and the Mediterranean.

The cinematography prize went to Daniel Miller for his work on the film “Fig Tree.”

'Tel Aviv on Fire' director Sameh Zoabi (right) and producer Amir Harel accept the prize for best Israeli film at the Haifa Film Festival, September 29, 2018.
Rami Chelouche
The creators of the documentary film 'Army of Lovers in the Holy Land' at the Haifa Film Festival, September 29, 2018.
Rami Chelouche

The best documentary film, “Army of Lovers in the Holy Land” (produced by Naama Pyritz), was awarded 40,000 shekels ($11,000). It tells the story of Army of Lovers, a Swedish pop group that enjoyed great popularity in the 1990s and was famous for its mix of disco, camp, and queer music along with its messages of sexual liberation. The film follows the decision by one of the group’s members, Jean-Pierre Barda, to leave Sweden and immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.

About “Army of Lovers in the Holy Land,” the judges said that it was “refreshing and entertaining, and describes the move from the plastic world of stiletto heels and fake diamonds to the roughness of the Israeli reality and conservatism.” The judges said the film “creates entertaining and absurd moments alongside an authentic emotional process of searching and belonging.”

Dalit Kimor’s “Unkept Secrets” received an honorable mention in the documentary film competition.

The jury for the Israeli film competition included this year’s chairwoman, director Julie Shles, French director Philippe Le Guay, Israeli actress Salwa Nakkara, Israeli cinematographer Yaron Scharf and Spanish producer Jordi Rediu.

The short animation film award went to “How and Why Don Jose Dissipated,” directed by Moshe Ben-Avraham, and the honorable mention went to “Dreams of Elsewhere.”

Yotam Kislev and Eyal Tzadik’s “Evaluation” was named the best independent short film.

The short film prize was awarded to director Alon Sahar for “Out,” and the short documentary prize went to “Malka, Malka,” directed by Maya Yavin.

Black Sheep Film Productions won a prize, a grant of post-production services worth 90,000 euros, awarded to Naomi Levari and Saar Yogev, who produced two films screened at the festival: “Stripped” and “Fig Tree.”

“Dead Women Walking,” Hagar Ben Asher’s first American film was shown outside the official competition and won the first prize in the festival’s Carmel International Film Competition.

Yair Qedar’s Haivrim project, depicting a series of biographical documentaries on outstanding writers in Hebrew and Jewish culture, received an honorable mention. The first prize for the Golden Anchor Competition for Mediterranean Cinema was awarded to the film “Daughter of Mine,” directed by Laura Bispuri.