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A Big IFF ...

February 16, 2012 By:
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"Intimate Grammar" measures up for the Israeli Film Festival, taking the opening-night spot.

Will Oscar make aliyah on Feb. 26?

With Footnote being feted at festivals -- and considered by some a front-runner for the best foreign film -- will the Israeli film actually take home the gold when the Academy Awards are announced later this month?

It certainly wouldn't surprise Nurit Yaron, chairwoman of Philadelphia's Israeli Film Festival (www.iffphila.org), celebrating the beginning of its own sweet 16th year the weekend of the Oscars.

After all, this is the 10th time Israel's entry in the Oscars has made it to the short list for best foreign film, a footnote of Israeli cinematic history in and of itself.

Footnote is, in a way, a cinematic term paper on the terms a father and son must deal with when competing in the same field, two talents teaching Talmud at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

It is when the son starts to overshadow -- and out-succeed -- dear old dad that the talmudists try to take out each other.

But films about dysfunctional Jewish families are not on this year's festival playlist.

"We've done a lot about dysfunctional Jewish families," she kids."The list this year is about individuals and the struggles they face."

The festival begins Saturday night, Feb. 25, when Intimate Grammar is screened -- with a repeat showing as a matinee the next day -- at International House.

This entry may as well be subtitled "Sabra & the '60s," as it tracks the efforts of a young boy to take on the twists and turns of the social forces blowing through Jerusalem during the anything-but-halcyon 1960s.

Individualism invades the themes of many of the other programs, which will be screened at a variety of locales, including the Franklin Institute, Gratz College and the Ritz East, through April 1.

The festival organizers -- including Mindy Chriqui, IFF founder and coordinator -- are not shy in their choices, traversing the topical and controversial: Melting Away, coming March 31 to Drexel University, focuses on a cross-dresser who is rebuffed and dressed down by his non-accepting parents, who must face their own biases when the father discovers he's dying.

Sexual politics as a focus is a large leap for Israeli film. "Israeli films have come of age," says Yaron, a resident of the Main Line who, when not showing hot screen properties, is involved in real estate.

"And there is more money coming into the industry that allows it to compete" on an international scale, she says of Israel's film trade.

Some of that support comes from the Diaspora. Indeed, the late Jack Wolgin of Philadelphia was a major fiscal source of funding for the Jerusalem Film Festival, which, increasingly, gave a voice to Israeli filmmakers.

In the Philadelphia area alone, the Israeli Film Festival has found a batch of well-wishers who put their money and support where their mouths are, including banks, universities, brokerage houses, an airline (El Al) and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia -- all listed as backers of this year's screenings.

"People are feeling connected to our festival," Yaron says of the local crowds making their way to area theaters during the six weeks of screenings.

Despite all the Hollywood hoopla surrounding Israel's Oscar entries, Yaron acknowledges that "we are still a small industry -- and always will be," just by the very nature of Israel's physical size.

But sometimes big surprises come in small packages -- and just how big a box do you really need for an Oscar to fit into?

Winning it all? It is a big IFF -- but, then, the local Israeli Film Festival may wind up scheduling Footnote for next year, win or lose.

Yaron grumps -- kiddingly -- that this, the 16th annual local festival, is the second year in a row that the Oscars are trying "to steal the IFF's thunder" by scheduling their big night out on the same evening the festival has a screening. (IFF's Dusk begins at dusk at International House on Feb. 26.) "But come see our film at 7 p.m. and you'll be home by 9 p.m. to watch the Oscars," she adds with a certain P.T. Barnum bravado.

And who knows, she adds with that same movie moxie, "maybe we'll put out our own red carpet on Sunday night."

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