2 Israeli films win top audience honors at Berlin festival


BERLIN (JTA) — An Arab-Israeli rap artist won over audiences at the 66th annual Berlin International Film Festival, gleaning a top public prize for Israeli director Udi Aloni.

“Junction 48” was one of two Israeli productions to take home Panorama Audience Awards on Saturday, winning for best feature. It tells the story of a young Arab-Israeli couple from Lod, in central Israel, who use their songs to criticize Israeli politics and the patriarchal system in their Arab village.

The lead role is played by Tamer Nafar, the front man of DAM, which bills itself as the first Arab rap band.

The other Israeli winner, “Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?,” by Israeli brothers Barak and Tomer Heymann, took home the audience award for documentary. The Israeli-British production tells the story of a gay man who was kicked out of his parents’ kibbutz and left Israel for London. The protagonist, now 40,  ultimately tries to reconcile with his family.

The Berlinale is considered the most political of the major international film festivals.

Speaking to the Berlin audience after the post-award screening, Aloni said he had been dealing for hours with vulgar emails and Facebook messages from Jewish-Israelis. He also said the Israeli government was displeased with the film.

Aloni insisted his message was that Jews and Arabs can collaborate to make a better life together, though there were few encounters with Jewish characters in the film.

“The movie tells a Palestinian story … the Palestinians are the subject,” he said.

The Jews who receive the most attention are rival rappers, ultranationalists who try to bait the Arab rappers with racist talk — all while they are sitting together in a hot tub. Unlike the Israeli police in the film, the Jewish rappers are “evil but not dangerous.”

“For me, the audience award is amazing,” Aloni said. “You felt it [what we were trying to do], and you gave it back to us.”

The Berlinale was not short on films dealing with Jewish topics. It saw the world premiere of Germany’s first feature film based on the “Diary of Anne Frank”; a feature based on Hans Fallada’s classic book “Alone in Berlin,” about an average German couple committing a unique act of resistance against the Nazis (with actors Emma Thomson and Daniel Bruhl), and a film about the epistolary relationship between poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann.

As is often the case at the Berlinale, Israeli documentaries focused on the dark side of life in the region.

In “PS Jerusalem,” director Danae Elon — daughter of the late Israeli writer Amos Elon — documents her family’s failed attempt to resettle in the city of her birth, Jerusalem.

Israeli filmmaker Elite Zexer’s first feature film, “Sufat Chol,” gave touching insight into the challenges of growing up female in a Bedouin
village, where modernity clashes with patriarchal values.

Israel was also a key subject in director Alex Gibney’s new documentary, “Zero Days,” which explores the phenomenon of the computer virus “Stuxnet,” which was designed — likely by the United States and Israel — to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.

The Culinary category featured “Cafe Nagler,” in which Israeli director Mor Kaplansky visits Berlin in search of the truth about the cafe run by her ancestors in the roaring ’20s capital.

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