One of the world’s leading international film festivals, held here recently, featured movies produced by “Palestine” as well as a cooperative Israeli- Palestinian effort.
But unlike last year’s Montreal World Film Festival, when a controversy ensued after a film was shown under the “Palestine” banner, there was no protest by Israeli government representatives during the 1995 festival.
The change is but one indication that the accord signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization two years ago appears to be making an impact on major international cultural events.
The 1995 Montreal World Film Festival, the 19th edition of the event, was held from Aug. 24 through Sept. 4.
This year, three films were shown under the Palestine banner. One of them was an Israeli-Palestinian co-production.
The joint effort, “Peace Chronicles,” takes an intimate look at the lives of three Israelis and three Palestinians in the six months after the signing of the accord. The amateur film was shot with video cameras.
Since its humble beginnings in the late 1970s, the festival has become the largest publicly attended film festival in the Western world. Over a 10-day period, more than 300,000 film aficionados sat through the screenings of some 250 films from 65 countries.
Each year one country is chosen as the highlight of the festival. For the first time, Israel was selected.
Festival spokesman David Novek said it was time Israel was chosen.
“Israel has a vibrant and growing film industry and it was felt it was opportune to present the work of Israeli filmmakers to a wider public,” Novek said.
“The festival tries to recognize filmmaking around the world and to present to our audiences the filmmaking tendencies of all countries,” he said. “We think it is important that our fans be exposed to films that are generally not available commercially.”
Twelve Israeli-produced films were screened at this year’s festival. Israeli director Shemi Zarhin won the festival’s award for best screenplay for “Leilasede,” or “Passover Fever.”
Zarhin, a Tiberias-born graduate of Tel Aviv University’s film and television school who teaches at the Jerusalem Film and Television School, wrote and directed the film about a large Israeli family that comes together at Passover to share the holiday and re-examine their relationships.
Many who attended the film’s debut considered it one of the more polished commercial films Israel has ever produced, despite that it was made on a shoestring $600,000 budget. Starring homegrown stars Gila Almagor and Yossef Shiloah, it will open in Israel on Nov. 17.
Israeli Consul General Daniel Gal said he is “very proud that Israel is playing a major part in this year’s festival.”
“Even in Israel today, cinema is not as politicized as it once was,” Gal said. “We are now producing films about people having love affairs and other normal things, like other countries.”
Other international festivals, such as those in Toronto and Cannes, France, include films under the banner of “Palestine.” Producers submit their entries on printed forms, on which they mark a country of origin.
Gal predicted that Israel would soon co-produce films with Syria, Egypt and Jordan.
The co-producer of “Leilasede,” Amitan Manelzon, said the Israeli government has encouraged international co-productions, setting up a $50 million fund.