Seven Days (Shiva) by Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz, which opened this year's Cannes Critics Week, was the big winner competition vying for the Wolgin awards for the Best Israeli films at the 25th Jerusalem Film Festival. There were only three other competitors.
Having pared down their picture by some 12 minutes, the Elkabetz siblings walked away with the Best Picture award (accompanied by a $40,000 check), and a Best Actress award (and $3,000) for Hana Azoulay-Haspafari.
Two veteran Israeli film stars, Moshe Ivgi and Alon Aboutboul shared the Best Actor award (and another $3,000) for their joint performance in Igal Bursztyn's Out of the Blue. David Ofek once again picked the Best Documentary Award (and $20,000) for his ironic portrait of foreign workers in Israel, Nicolai and the Law of Return.
The evident dearth of products for this year's Israeli feature films competition has nothing to do with the local production, which looks as healthy as ever, but reflects the objections of the local industry, which claims that premiering their pictures in the festival to have it harshly reviewed the next day, may seriously harm their subsequent distribution options on the local market.
The problem has been raised several times in the past and an unsuccessful attempt was made last year to show the films later at night, the screenings ending after the latest deadline for next morning's papers.
This year, the festival was faced with almost wall-to-wall rejection, several new films demonstratively coming out in the course of the last month, preferring to handle their own launches instead of relying on the festival.
Among the eventual solutions suggested to solve the crisis, a serious one for Jerusalem which has been traditionally viewed by foreign guests as the best place to discover new Israeli products, there is a proposal to start an international competitive section in the festival with a couple of slots reserved for domestic production, and a parallel showcase displaying the rest of the year's production.
The question remains, of course, whether the producers would be prepared to go along, or will still consider it a risk not worth taking.
This is the first year the festival is no longer headed by its founder, Lia van Leer, who has moved up to the Presidency of the Board, with recently appointed General Director Ilan de Vries taking over.
Though the basic structure hasn't really changed, and the number of films seems to be once again on its way up, close to 200 titles, the most visible improvement, this year, is the addition of two badly needed new theatres to the home of the festival, the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
Also, there is a distinct effort to underline the importance of the Spirit of Freedom section, with a new substantial $20,000 award on top of the already existing $5,000. This year the top honors went to Steve McQueen's Hunger (Cannes' Camera D'or) followed by Peng Tao's Little Moth.
The FIPRESCI jury, which looked at the same section, settled on a Turkish entry, Hussein Karabey's My Marlon and Brando.
More than ever poised to promote parallel activities non immediately related to film exhibition, Jerusalem hosted several pitching sessions graced by some European production leaders such as Karl Baumgartner (Pandora), Kirsten Niehuus (MedienBoard Berlin), Michel Reilhac (ARTE France), Thorsten Ritter (Bavaria), Antonio Saura (Zebra) and Michael J. Werner (Fortissimo).
Meeting with the heads of the Israeli industry, Niehuus also confirmed that as of next summer, two Israeli directors will be entitled to participate in a three-month Berlin MedienBoard internship to help them develop their programs. Berlinale topper Dieter Kosslick laid the foundation for what might turn out to be, in 2009 or latest, 2010, a Jerusalem version of the Talent Campus, though, says de Vries, far more streamlined and modest than its Berlin model.
The festival's Achievement Awards went this year to UK director Michael Winterbottom and peripatetic star John Malkovich, who walked in to for the screening of Being John Malkovich to find the entire audience hiding behind Malkovich masks.
Main Jerusalem Awards
Best Israeli Feature film - Seven Days (Shiva) by Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz
Best Female Performance - Hana Azoulay-Hasfari (in Shiva)
Best Male Performance - Moshe Ivgi and Alon Aboutboul (in Igal Bursztyn's Out of the Blue)
Best Documentary - Nicolai and the Law of Return by David Ofek
Best short film - Round Trip by Gur Bentwich
'In the Spirit of Freedom' First Prize - Hunger by Steve McQueen
'In the Spirit of Freedom' Second Prize - Little Moth by Peng Tao
'In the Spirit of Freedom' FIPRESCI Award - My Marlon and Brando by Hussein Karabey
The Jewish Experience Awards - Outside Love by Daniel Espinosa and The Green Dumpster Mystery by Tal Haim Yoffe.