Israeli cinema’s in the spotlight at Finchley Road film festival

A scene from Next To Her

A scene from Next To Her - Credit: Archant

Abrasive patriarchs, a touching sisterly bond, and an impending wedding feature in Seret festival films, finds Michael Joyce.

Last week the documentary Electric Boogaloo told the story of how two Israeli film makers, Menhem Golam and Yoram Globus, having come to totally dominate the industry at home, went to America and in the 80s briefly became the world’s major film producers. The days when the Israeli film industry could effectively be a two man job are long past though and the vibrancy of its film and TV production is celebrated in Serat 2015 – The London Israeli Film and Television Festival, which takes place between June 11th -20th. There are plenty of screenings taking place locally, at either JW3, the Jewish Community Centre London, or the Odeon Swiss Cottage. The festival is the brainchild of three women Anat Koren, Odelia Haroush and Patty Hochmann, and in its fourth year, the festival has spread beyond the capital to take in screenings in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool.

The most prestigious film in the festival is probably Next To Her about the unusually close relationship between a security guard and the mentally disabled sister she has to care for. Their relationship begins to take on strange new forms when the authorities force her to put her sister in a day care centre while she is at work and a man enters their lives. The film has received much praise and picked up numerous awards on the festival circuit. This sensitive and disturbing drama will get a cinema release later in the year, but you can see it first by booking one of the select number of seats available for its screening on Monday 15th at JW3.

Magic Men is a bittersweet road movie. Avraham Kofinas (Makram J Khoury, who is currently playing Shylock for the RSC up in Stratford and here resembles a cross between Eli Wallach and Michael Bentine) is a recently widowed local councillor, dispatched from Israel to Greece to take part in a town twinning ceremony. Reluctantly accompanying him is his son Yehuda (Zohar Shtrauss), a devoutly religious musician. The relationship between the two is poisonous because of the son’s religious orthodoxy and some bad history between them. Avraham may be in Greece on official business representing his community, but he is brusque and curt with nearly everyone he meets, not just his son and is more concerned with his own personal quest to locate a Greek who hid him from the Nazis during the War when he lived in Thessaloniki.

The situation sets up some fairly predictable routes for its characters to take towards the inevitable (and here rather abrupt) reconciliation, and for the most part they are content to tread the well travelled path. There is even a sympathetic call girl that Avraham hooks up with, platonically. But the Greek landscape is beautifully shot, the performances are strong and engaging, and occasionally it throws up a surprise. Magic Men is screening on Saturday 13th and Sunday 21st at the Odeon Swiss Cottage.

Another extremely abrasive father is at the heart of Oren Stern’s Hill Start, the festival’s Opening Gala picture which then screens at the Odeon Swiss Cottage on Tuesday 16th. It is a Jerusalem set comedy drama centring on the Ceva family that throws together a fairly disparate set of interests: yoga, half marathons, driving lessons, plastic surgery, and gun ranges. Shlomo Bar-Aba plays Micha, the perpetually angry and disgruntled patriarch who is disappointed in his son Ari (Itay Tiran) and disapproves of his impending wedding to Reli (Rotem Zussman.) Father and son work together in his plastic surgery business where, in the film at least, they only work on breast enhancements. There is also some tension with his daughter Shlomit (Mali Levi) who is a teacher, a bit of a wishy washy liberal, hasn’t got a boyfriend and wears baggy pants. Then a serious accident causes them to reassess their life priorities. Hill Start is ably performed and slickly put together though, to a non Israeli, there are lots of local references that make little sense.

To book tickets for these or any of the other films or TV series screening go to, select a film from the ‘Films’ tab and then there are ‘book tickets’ links.