Haifa Film Festival Must-sees Include Several Works by Female Directors

Haifa’s 32nd International Film Festival runs October 15-24, with a host of Israeli and international debuts. Here are five recommendations and one viewer’s warning.

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פיצ'ינג פסטיבל הקולנוע

Haifa’s 32nd International Film Festival will be held from Friday through October 24, and its program is particularly rich and varied.

Besides festive events and intriguing films I have yet to see (among them David Lynch’s documentary and Avi Nesher’s new film “Past Life,” which will close the festival), I managed to see some of the films at the Toronto and New York festivals. I am especially happy that the recommendations this year, coincidentally, include four films by female directors, among them two of the most original and interesting movies I have seen in 2016. Get your tickets in advance.


One of the best documentaries I have seen in the past year is a unique, impressive and though-provoking biography by filmmaker Kirsten Johnson, Cameraperson, which will be screened just once on October 20. It is a film comprised mostly of scenes that didn’t make the successful films Johnson made during her 30-year career, among them Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 911” or “Citizenfour” and “The Oath” by Laura Poitras.

In a male-dominated profession, Johnson always insisted on travelling to the most dangerous places in the world, be it al-Qaida’s training grounds in Afghanistan or the United States’ notorious prison in Guantanamo Bay. Besides spine-tingling conversations with Bosnian victims of group rape or a youngster who lost his eye in war and saw his brother die in front of him, Johnson also includes more routine footage, among them a brief conversation in the streets of Manhattan with French philosopher Jacques Derrida or a sleepy outing with toddlers. The result is a surprising cinematic thought about the power – and limits – of cinema. Is it at all possible to present the horrors of war? How does one film post-trauma? And what happens to someone who seeks to use the camera as a shield and armor and discovers at the end of the journey that the pain managed to penetrate the lens?

Bar Bahar – In Between

Another feminist film that is successful and especially recommended is “Bar Bahar – In Between” by Palestinian director Maysaloun Hamoud. It was filmed mostly in Tel Aviv and reminded me at times of the drive and energy that characterized the outstanding French film “Girlhood” by Celine Sciamma. The film, which has already secured awards at the Toronto and San Sebastian film festivals, tells the tale of three young Palestinian women who rent an apartment in central Tel Aviv and try to forge their own identity among the various pressures they are subjected to. The acting is fantastic. The tight script and terrific sound track turn “In Between” into a stirring drama that manages to bitterly critique both patriarchal and conservative Arab society and the liberal boundaries of Tel Aviv secularism. The result does not pretend to teach or preach but rather succeeds in creating flesh-and-blood characters who live their lives with passion, ambition and curiosity.

“The Burglar”

Hagar Ben-Asher’s new film is another gloomy drama with a heroine at the center. Ben-Asher’s cinematic universe is gloomy, morbid and stifling, be it a moshav in which “The Slut” (2011) takes place or in a small apartment in which the young heroine of “The Burglar” finds herself after her mother disappeared without an income and refuses to answer her calls. Without money, parental support or any framework, she starts robbing houses while she also develops a strange relationship with a German tourist staying at a Dead Sea hotel. The filming by Amit Yasour is hypnotic. The acting by Lihi Kornowski is complex and impressive. And, the script surprises and maintains the tension throughout. Similar to “The Slut,” this film is a puzzle that leaves viewers with many question marks and with the need to finish the story for themselves. Although it is not a simple viewing experience, and has both powerful and strange scenes, it is a brilliant and original creation in the end that is worth devoting one’s time to see.

‘The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography’

A new film by Oscar-winning Errol Morris, one of the most successful documentary makers of the past few decades, is always a reason to celebrate. “The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography” is a relatively short and intimate profile of the photographer who documented countless famous people and Bohemians, among them Bob Dylan and beat poet Alan Ginsberg. In an interview conducted in her studio, Dorfman – who defines herself as “a Jewish girl from a good home” – tells Morris how she began filming at the age of 28 and had the habit of always taking two pictures, one for herself and one for her subject.

Although it is not an investigation over many years like Morris’ more regarded works (like “The Thin Blue Line,” “The Fog of War” and “Dr. Death”), “B-Side” joins his documentary profiles that are easy to digest (like the excellent “Tabloid”). The result reveals a talented photographer whose life is unknown to most viewers.

‘Through the Wall’

The second feature by Ramat Burshtein (“Fill the Void”) proves that she has a unique and interesting cinematic voice that provides an in-depth view of religious society. While her debut feature was a gloomy family drama, this film is a religious interpretation of the romantic comedy genre. It is about a desperate 30-year-old woman named Michal (the fantastic Noa Koler), who became religious when she was 18 and gets dumped by her fiancé. Looking for a match, she decides to stop praying and start doing something. She sets a wedding date for the eighth night of Hanukkah, invites her relatives, buys a dress, puts on powder, and now needs only a groom (this summary to a certain degree mirrors Hadas Ben Aroya’s “People That Are Not Me,” which is also being shown at the festival and could provide an amusing double feature with Burshtein’s film).

Michal’s spiritual journey takes her through more-or-less hopeless match making attempts, and creates a crisis of faith that challenges her world view. There is something intimidating about a film that makes such a direct comparison between spiritual and personal salvation and marriage (and negates the possibility of attaining salvation without marriage), but Burshtein’s impressive ability to present religious society in all its complexity provides viewers with a rare opportunity to peek into a world with laws and customs that are foreign to most of us.

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