Despite a political situation that has kept international celebrities away, the 20th Jerusalem Film Festival has seen most of its screenings sold out - as well programming a record eight new Israeli feature films in its main line-up.

The standout Israeli film as the festival approaches its final day is Ra'anan Alexandrowicz's satire James' Journey To Jerusalem - which premiered earlier this year in Directors' Fortnight at Cannes where it was picked up by several international distributors.

A dark satire, James' Journey To Jerusalem tells the story of the son of a Zulu preacher who arrives in Israel planning to tour the holy sites - but who is arrested and thrown into jail on suspision of being an illegal immigrant.

The film, however, has been slaughtered by reviewers in all three leading dailies in Israel - causing genuine surprise for many festival goers whose reactions to the film have tended to range from the positive to enthusiastic.

Producer Amir Harel can at least take comfort in invitations that have been extended to him from several other international film festivals including London and on striking a number of sales at Cannes, including distribution in the US (Zeitgeist), Brazil (Espaco Unibanco de Cinema - Ademar Oliveira), Belgium, Luxembourg and Congo (Boomerang Pictures) with France to be soon finalised.

Two other Israeli films have attracted attention: Dover Koshashvili's A Gift From Heaven and Savi Gabison's Nina's Tragedies - although no international deals had been struck at press time.

In the festival's leading event, Sundance artistic director Geoff Gilmore moderated a two-day seminar organised by the Israeli Film Fund. He presented in detail the operations of Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, drawing in the entire Israeli industry.

Guests have included Celluloid Dreams' Pierre Menahem and Fortissimo chief Wouter Barendrecht, who almost did not make it after El Al airline security publicly and discourteously took him to task at Hong Kong airport en route to Israel. The offended Barendrecht turned around and went home. Two days later, however, he was persuaded to make the trip but had to be provided with transportation on a different airline.

Both Celluloid Dreams and Fortissimo have successfully dealt with local products in the past and their presence at the festival is a definite bonus. Some of the better-known filmmakers who made the trip were Wolfgang Becker (Good, Bye Lenin) and the Dardenne brothers (Le Fils).