On a movie mission in the south of France

Jewish International Film Festival co-director Lindy Tamir was at the Cannes Film Festival last month, searching for movies with Jewish themes.

Stars of 'The Meyerowitz Stories' Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman and Adam Sandler in Cannes.
Stars of 'The Meyerowitz Stories' Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman and Adam Sandler in Cannes.

Jewish International Film Festival co-director Lindy Tamir was at the Cannes Film Festival last month, searching for movies with Jewish themes.

THE annual Cannes Film Festival attracts movie stars and directors from around the world for red-carpet premieres, but behind the glamour is the hard work of attending numerous screenings in a very competitive environment as we scour for new Israeli releases and films with Jewish characters and stories.

I was in Cannes for this year’s festival from May 17-28 together with Jewish International Film Festival (JIFF) artistic director Eddie Tamir, my partner in life and business.

We caught a glimpse of Juliette Binoche and Kirsten Dunst in the street surrounded by a mass of fans, but we were rushing past, pushing through security lines to get to our next meeting or screening, on our mission to acquire films as Australian premieres under the JIFF banner. 

The landscape is particularly competitive for us as Jewish films may originate from any country, therefore attracting the interest of a French, Spanish or German film festival.  Or a quality film might be sought after by the Melbourne International Film Festival. Sometimes, major Australian distributors want to purchase a film for a general cinema release. 

On arrival in Cannes, we comb through the thousands of films that are programmed to play. There are gems to be found. A synopsis of a new documentary may reveal that the person was born Jewish or a World War II film set in Denmark appears to have a Jewish storyline. 

We map out our week to view the films playing at different cinemas and to set up our meetings with the sales agents. There is a lot of fast walking to get to screenings on time.

The routine is that immediately after viewing a film we’re interested in, we go to the sales agent’s booth to negotiate securing the film.

Noah Baumbach’s new film, The Meyerowitz Stories, premiered in Competition at Cannes. The family comedy shares an intergenerational tale of adult siblings contending with the ageing of their father and stars Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller. A Jewish family? Probably. On viewing, did we think there was enough for our audiences? No. 

Particularly patriotic and controversial on the red carpet was the appearance of the Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev in a white and gold gown whose hem bore a picture of the skyline of the Old City of Jerusalem. We attended a press conference where Regev launched the Israeli pavilion on the Cannes pier. 

We are passionate about the Israeli films and met the filmmakers to discuss their current and future projects. Our routine is dinner out in the old city of Cannes with the directors and producers. 

In the Acid competition for new filmmakers, we watched Scaffolding by Matan Yair. The film drew engaged crowds and great reviews. Inspired by Yair’s own experiences as a teacher in Israel, it explores the decisions of a young man, Asher, who is pulled between his charismatic teacher and his brash father who wants him to take over his scaffolding business. 

We were excited to view a  Spanish-Argentinian film titled The Last Suit about an 88-year-old Jewish tailor who leaves Buenos Aires on a journey to Poland to attempt to find his old friend. 

We watched the Israeli–Austrian film The Testament about a meticulous historian leading a debate against Holocaust deniers who discovers that his mother carries a false identity.

In the Cakemaker, Thomas, a baker in Berlin, is having an affair with Oren, an Israeli married man who dies in a car crash. Thomas travels to Jerusalem secretly seeking answers.

Fresh out of Sundance and screening at Cannes was Band Aid, a quirky indie film by Zoe Lister-Jones about a Jewish couple who can’t stop fighting. They embark on a last-ditch effort to save their marriage by turning their fights into songs and starting a band.

We were pleased to find in the documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story that the actress was Jewish. The film explores how Lamarr, born in Vienna before she escaped to America where she became a Hollywood star, had a brilliant mind and co-invented 1940s wireless technology.

We attended a presentation on Sobibor, a new Russian film being completed on the history of the extermination camp. We were shown 10 minutes of footage, which was enough to gauge that it will be an impressive film that our audience will appreciate. 

The drama focuses on Alexander Pechersky who, as a POW in Sobibor, organised a mass revolt and prisoner escape. 

The negotiating continues on our return home to Melbourne and we are yet to determine which of this new crop will be included in the 60 new films that will premiere at JIFF.

JIFF will screen in October/November in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Canberra. 

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