Celebrating 20 years, this year’s Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival (HKJFF) at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center features a dynamic and diverse programme. The HKJFF opener is feel-good factor Tel Aviv on Fire, director Sameh Zoabi’s award-winning comedy on the subject of troubled Israel–Palestinian relations told through the perils of young Palestinian scriptwriter Salam, working on the sitcom of the same name as the film. The show is a big hit on both sides of the wall, and the film poignantly depicts Salam’s professional and personal challenges, from his allegiance with an Israeli checkpoint officer to his creative differences with the show’s producers as to how the series will end, and to his attempts to reconcile with his ex-girlfriend.
Check out our top-five selection of the best of the rest:
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Israeli author Meir Shalev, Esau follows a 40-year-old writer who returns to his family home after half a lifetime to face the brother who stole both his love and his livelihood. The story is a modern twist on the biblical story of Jacob and Esau in the book of Genesis. Russian director Pavel Lungin’s film features a stirring performance by acclaimed actor Harvey Keitel.
Three independent Palestinian women choose a life of freedom in the Yemenite section of Tel Aviv (along with those in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinians compose 20% of the Israeli citizenry) – a far cry from their traditional upbringing. When the religiously conservative Nor joins as their new roommate, their drug-fuelled bohemian lifestyle comes under sharp scrutiny. In Between is Palestinian female filmmaker Maysaloun Hamoud’s directorial feature debut.
Sixteen-year-old Jewish girl Mina is trying to navigate between a surreal routine dictated by the civil war in Ethiopia and her last days of youth with her Christian boyfriend, Eli. When she discovers that her family is planning to immigrate to Israel and escape the war, she weaves an alternate plan in order to save Eli. But in times of war, plans tend to go awry. Fig Tree marks director Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian’s debut film, based on her childhood memories.
Dan Shadur’s documentary explores Benjamin Netanyahu’s rise to power using archival footage of his media performances, from being a popular guest expert on American television to his public confession of adultery, and to his mastery of the art of social media. “Bibi” is perceived as both saviour and sinner, a cynical politician who will justify any means to retain his power. Wherever you stand on Netanyahu, King Bibi makes for compelling viewing.
Actress Tovah Feldshuh recreates her Tony Award-nominated performance as Golda Meir in William Gibson’s stage masterpiece; it has won the Audience Award prize in all ten of the competitive film festivals in which it has screened. The rise of Golda Meir, from Russian schoolgirl to Israeli prime minister, is one of the most thrilling and remarkable narratives of the 20th century.
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