United King, the leading distributor of domestic films in Israel,is launching two new productions one by Josef Cedar and the other by Avi Nesher in February.

The first, The Secret,an Israeli-French co-production, starts shooting next month with Avi Nesher inthe director's chair. Nesher, whose previous effort, Turn Left at the End of the World was the box-office hit of theprevious decade (450,000 admissions), has attracted French star Fanny Ardantfor the lead, playing a French woman seeking succour and redemption in the cityof Safed, the world centre of the Kabbalist mystics. Also in the cast,established Israeli performers such as Dana Ivgy (Or), and veterans Tiki Dayan, Rivka Michaeli and Seffi Rivlin, aswell as newcomers Ania Bokstein and Michal Shtamler.

Nesher has written the script, French cinematographer MichelAbramovich is behind the camera, with Sharon Harel as executive producer. Picture, produced by David Silber (MetroFilms) with Moshe and Leon Edri (United King), starts shooting on January 23,with a budget of $3 million.

Barely a month later, Josef Cedar moves to Galileelocations for his feature film, Beaufort.Cedar, whose Campfire was unveiled acouple of years ago in Berlin to favourable reviews and quite a fewinternational awards, is once again tackling a sensitive subject, retelling thetrue story of the last mountain Israeli fortification evacuated in the LebanonWar and its final days, when the young soldiers were kept under heavy fire forpurely political reasons, as retreat was delayed until the last moment. Thescript is based on the book, If there is a Paradise, written byjournalist Ron Leshem. With a budget of $1.8 million, the highest he has everhandled, Cedar has drafted in a cast of young performers, including OshriCohen, Itay Tiran, Itay Turgeman and Eli Altonin. On the production side is DavidMandil,David Silberand Moshe Edri.

United King will also be present at Berlin this year, firstas the distributors of Udi Aloni's Panorama entry Forgiveness, and as participants in the Productions Forum with AviNesher's forthcoming project, Montededio,based on the Erri de Luca novel, due to be shot at the end of 2006 in Naples. Montededio tells the story of thestrange friendship between a Jewish cobbler who survived the Holocaust and a Neapolitankid, takes place in the early years after WW2. The project will be seekingcompletion money for its $4 million budget and Sharon Harel will be the executiveproducer. United King is also currently looking for a suitable Italian partnerfor this venture.