Jerusalem Film Festival

The Jerusalem Film Festival is pushing on with a physical edition this summer following a decision by Israeli authorities to allow the reopening of cinemas in the country from June 14.

The event will now run August 20-30, just over a month later than its originally scheduled July 16-26 slot.

The 37th edition had been on hold since Israel imposed a national lockdown in mid-March to slow the spread of Covid-19, which included a ban on large gatherings. The country has been relatively successful in containing the virus. To date, there have been around 16,800 cases and 281 deaths. 

An announcement by Israel’s health and culture ministries last Sunday (May 24) that theatres and cinemas could reopen from mid-June had allowed the festival to get back on track again, said artistic director Elad Samorzik.

“Theatres and cinemas will be able to run at 75% of their capacity with up to 500 people,” he explained. “We were examining lots of different options but this decision allowed us to push through with a physical event.”

“We felt the August 20-30 slot would be a good time for local audiences because it falls within Israel’s summer holiday period,” he continued. It will also give the festival team more time to prepare.

Israelis are more likely to be spending their holidays at home this year due to ongoing fears over the virus and travel restrictions, which currently include a 14-day period of self-isolation for citizens coming into the country from abroad.

Plans for this year’s edition are still taking shape but Samorzik believes the screening programme will run nearly as normal. The only event around which there is a question mark is the opening night in the 5,000 open-air Sultan’s Pool amphitheatre.

Samorzik said he was confident the festival team could pull together a good selection. A total of some 200 international and Israeli titles, including short films, normally play at the festival.

“I’ve been programming since Venice and already have a significant number of international features and documentaries confirmed for the programme,” he said.

“We’re still watching films and I’m awaiting for the announcement of Thierry Frémaux,” he continued, referring to the long-awaited Cannes 2020 selection which is expected to be announced on June 3.

Industry programme

The Jerusalem Film Festival usually features a strong international industry presence but this is unlikely to be the case for this edition, not least because non-Israelis have been banned from entering the country since March 18 as part of Covid-19 measures, although this could be eased by end-August.

As a result, the festival is planning a slimmed-down version of its industry days programme and will not run the feature-length component of its Pitch Point event aimed at connecting Israeli filmmakers and producers with international partners.

“We’re not really keen on doing an event on Zoom or a digital market. We will do something aimed more at the local film industry, involving roundtables and panel discussions,” said Samorzik.

The festival is planning, however, to push on with a second edition of its Pitch Point Shorts event that launched last year and comes with a hefty 250,000 ILS ($71,000) prize provided by the Gesher Multicultural Film Fund.

The opening film and the Israeli feature films, documentaries and shorts selections will be announced in July.