Jewish, Israeli films honored at Berlin festival


BERLIN (JTA) — An upbeat film about Europe’s largest Jewish cemetery drew a major prize at the 61st annual Berlin International Film Festival.

Two Israeli films also earned awards at the festival, which ran Feb. 10-20.

"In Heaven Underground," a film about the vast Weissensee Jewish cemetery in former East Berlin, won the Panorama Audience Award for documentary films — a prize based on votes by thousands of theater goers. Non-Jewish filmmaker Britta Wauer created a portrait of the designated UNESCO World Heritage site, including interviews with rabbis, Jews whose ancestors are buried there and Holocaust survivors whose teenage years were spent socializing there when other venues were forbidden.

The documentary "Lo Roim Alaich" (Invisible), an Israeli-German co-production directed by Michal Aviad, won the top documentary prize from the Ecumenical Jury. The film tells the story of two Israeli women, victims of a serial rapist, searching for the perpetrator. Wrapped into the story of their trauma is a political commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Mabul," a film for children by Israeli director Guy Nattiv, won a second prize from the Children’s Jury for films in the kindergarten-plus age group. The Israeli-Canadian-German production tells the story of two brothers, one of whom suffers from autism. It is based on Nattiv’s Berlin film festival Crystal Bear-winning 2002 short film of the same name.

Several films directed by Israelis were included in this year’s festival, including "Odem," a British-Israeli co-production by Jonathan Sagall, entered in the top category, and "Bombay Beach," an American production by Israeli-born director Alma Har’el.

Israeli film pioneer Lia van Leer, 86, was honored with a Camera Award at the festival.

An Iranian family-drama film, "Nader and Simin, A Separation," by director Asghar Farhadi, won the festival’s top prize, the Golden Bear for the best film, as well as Silver Bears for best actor and best actress.

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