Film about Israeli troops in Gaza wins at Berlin festival


(JTA) — A feature film about Israeli troops in Gaza won a top independent jury prize at the 63rd annual Berlin International Film Festival.

"Rock the Casbah," by Israeli director Yariv Horowitz, brought home the top prize from the International Confederation of Art House Cinemas. The prize was announced on Saturday, a day before the 11-day festival ended.

It was one of several films at the festival that dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The jurors unanimously commended Horowitz both for "the force of the mise-en-scène and the subject," adding that he showed "great intelligence in talking about a very personal situation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on one hand" while also delivering a commentary on the futility of war.

Set in the Gaza Strip in the early summer of 1989, the film depicts several days in the life of a company of young Israeli soldiers who have arrived to serve in what was then an Israeli-occupied territory. One soldier is brutally killed when a washing machine is dropped on him from a rooftop. Against this backdrop, the filmmaker takes viewers deeper into the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, as well as those among the soldiers themselves and within the Arab community with which they come into close contact.

Speaking to viewers at the Berlinale screening, Horowitz said he had received much positive feedback from Israeli audiences, where just about everyone was a former soldier and could relate to some aspect of the film. He said all the incidents were based on stories told by soldiers serving in various situations.

As in past years, a handful of documentary films at the festival dealt with the ongoing conflict. But this year, "Palestine and the Middle East” was declared a central theme for the documentary section, which included a European premier screening of Udi Aloni’s film "Art/Violence," about the aftermath of the assassination of Arab-Jewish actor and peace activist Juliano Mer-Khamis in April 2011.

Another prize-winning film on the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was "A World Not Ours," a documentary film about life in the Ain el-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon by Danish-Palestinian film director Mahdi Fleifel. The film won the festival’s annual Peace Prize.

The jury said the film documenting the life of el-Helweh’s family in the camp, one of the oldest in that region, was "free of the usual patterns classifying the conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians [and] thus evolves into a plea for a new peace process in the Middle East."

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