BERLIN, Feb. 20 (JTA) — Two Israeli films — one political and the other for children — have won prizes at the Berlin film festival. "August, A Moment Before the Eruption," which had its world premiere at the 52nd annual festival, won the festival´s peace prize. And "Mabul," Hebrew for flood, was chosen best short film in the children´s category by a jury of 11 Berlin children. Prizes were announced Sunday as the 10-day festival drew to a close. The two winners were among several Israeli films screened at the prestigious festival this year. In "August," Tel Aviv filmmaker Avi Mograbi, 45, uses footage shot mostly in August 2000, a month before the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada. Through imaginative editing and technical effects, he conveys a complicated image of life in Israel, focusing on everything the filmmaker most dislikes — hate, tension, anger and violence — while making fun of himself at the same time. The peace prize jury said the film portrayed an "Israeli society that is ruled by violence and fear." They found Mograbi´s film "iridescent and neurotic like the society he encounters," and said he had succeeded "in improving our understanding of the current situation." The prize is funded by the Action Group Peace Film Award together with the Heinrich Boll Foundation and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. "Some films may show the government and the problems of Israel in a not very favorable way, but it shows to the world the strength of our democracy," said Yoram Golan, chairman of the board of the Israel Film Promotion Fund, in an interview before the prizes were announced. Following a screening of his film during the festival, Mograbi said he had gone out with his camera "looking for the everyday aggression" that is part of life for him in Israel. "I failed to find the scenes I was looking for, but somehow the aggressive atmosphere came out anyway." Much of the film consists of people asking Mograbi why he is filming them and asking him to stop, even when the situations appear apolitical. In an unusual twist, he plays the role of his own wife, changing costumes simply by wrapping a towel around his head before launching into what appears to be his wife´s finger-wagging role. She starts out asking him to film the beauties of Israel, and ends up demanding that he show the truth about hate and violence in the society. "I think the atmosphere in Israel is like at the edge of a volcano," Mograbi said. "A few weeks ago, there was a suicide bombing in a southern part of Tel Aviv, and the crowd thought that one of the wounded was an accomplice, so they beat him up. He was in a coma for two weeks. It turned out he was a Russian newcomer, in Israel only 9 months. He apparently looked to them like a potential terrorist." Despite the intifada, ordinary life continues in Israel, and the short film "Mabul" provides a look into a coming-of-age experience with universal implications. Filmmaker Guy Nattiv tells the story of Yoni, 13, and his older brother, Tomer, who is mentally retarded. As Yoni comes of age, his older brother is left behind. A jury of 11 children from Berlin, aged 11-14, said the film had "impressed us greatly in all ways. Its two actors, Itay Shore and Tomer Ben David, got the film´s contents across so well that they really got under our skin." The film provides "proof that childhood is a universal bond, and for us young filmmakers, particularly Israelis, universal bonds are very important," said screenwriter Noa Berman Herzberg, 33, in accepting the prize together with Nattiv, 28, and editor Yuval Orr, 28. All three studied at the Camera Obscura film school in Tel Aviv. Katriel Schory, managing director of the Israel Film Fund, called it an "historic year" for Israeli films. In 2001, after the passage of a new cinema law, the Israeli government tripled its contribution to the TV and film industry, Schory said, which will mean "a lot more chances for filmmakers." "Regardless of what is called ‘the situation,´ we had a good year," said Schory. "In 1999-2000, our fund only had enough money to support six films. This year, we had 14 movies in our budget." Other Israeli films screened at the festival were "The Secret," a documentary by director Ronit Kertsner, about Polish Catholics who suddenly learn that they have Jewish backgrounds; and "The Settlers," directed by Ruth Walik, about seven ardently Zionist families in Israel. Schory said Israel had finally recognized the impact of film as "the most significant, traveling art form." But it is not only about showing the many facets of Israel to the world. "There is also a hell of a lot of talent out there," Schory said.
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Toby Axelrod is JTA's correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee's Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week. She has won numerous awards from the New York Press Association and the American Jewish Press Association. She has published books on Holocaust history for teen-agers.