Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf speaks about Iran-Israel relationship.

Tom Shoval’s debut feature Youth, which premiered earlier this year in Berlin’s Panorama section, is the winner of the 30th Jerusalem Film Festival. The story of two brothers who try to help their family’s dwindling finances by kidnapping a classmate and asking for ransom, also collected an acting award for the two real-life brothers, David and Eitan Cunio, playing the leads. Youth also won best editing for Joelle Alexis.

The jury, headed by former New York Film Festival festival head Richard Pena, who was also the recipient of the festival’s Life Achievement Award, gave its second prize to Maya Dreyfuss’ She’s Coming Home, added an acting award for Tali Sharon’s performance in this film and best cinematography for Shai Peleg.  Best script award went to writer/director Adi Adwan for Arabani, a feature film shot in a Druze village.

The documentary jury, headed by film critic Kenneth Turan, gave its top prize to Life Sentences, a provocative portrait directed by Nurith Keidar and Yaron Shani, about a mixed marriage between a Palestinian who turned up later to be responsible for terrorist acts and a Jewish woman, who, once her husband’s identity was discovered, took flight and found shelter, for herself and her children, in an Orthodox Jewish community in Montreal.

More awards were distributed in the Spirit of Freedom section to Bosnian director Danis Tanovic for An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker and to Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture, his latest foray into the bloody history of the Khmer Rouge in his native Cambodia.

The presence of London-based Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf was by far the most relevant event of what turned out to be an unusually modest coverage of the festival, badly hurt by budget restrictions. Makhmalbaf, once a hero of the revolution against the Shah and one of his country’s leading filmmakers, was for a while the darling of the Islamist regime, but has since distanced himself from the official Iranian policies, criticized them more than once in public, before he moved, first to Tajikistan and then to the West.

Makhmalbaf had already visited Israel earlier this year to shoot The Gardener, a documentary about a gardener in Haifa’s Bahai Temple, and now back in Jerusalem to show his film, he spoke freely about the unnecessary animosity between his country and Israel, claiming these two nations have too much in common to fight each other. “When I first came here I had expected to find a country at war but I found noting of the kind, people were leading a normal life, just like everywhere else in the world. I have been criticized in Iran for shooting the film in Israel, but I am persuaded that there will be many other Iranian filmmakers who will be following me in future.”