Israeli Cinema (2015): High-Profiled Fest Winners

The 2015 Jerusalem Film Fest Sam Spiegel Intl. Film Lab has handed out its two prizes to two socially-engaged projects, “Darkroom” and “The Death of Black Horses.”

“Aya,” Mihak Brezis and Oded Binnun’s project based on the Oscar-nominated eponymous short, won the Film Lab’s newly-created post-production grant – valued at 25,000 Euros — from Paris-based company Digital District. “Aya” is produced by Yael Abecassis at Tel Aviv-based Cassis Films.

The fourth edition’s high-profile jury comprised Film Lab alumnus Laszlo Nemes, whose debut “Son of Saul” won this year’s Cannes’ Grand Prix, Olivier Pere, Arte France Cinema’s topper, Meinolf Zurhorst, head of ZDF’s Arte film department, and Katriel Schory, the Israel Film Fund’s exec director.

Itamar Alcalay’s feature debut, “Darkroom,” won the top prize, a $50,000 grant from the Beracha Foundation. The project turns on Artium, an Armenian youth who lives under his mother’s strict control in south Tel Aviv and nevertheless embarks into an illicit affair with Amir, a childhood friend. Their passionate romance seems threatened when Artium is forced to marry a young Armenian woman, Astrich, in order to end a bloody family war. But as Astrich turns out to be a free-spirited woman, the two youngsters are able to continue seeing each other, hidden from the watchful eye of their respective families.

Alcalay, who has directed various documentaries including “Off Season,” said “Darkroom” was a “frenetic portrait of a young man torn between two worlds – a world of survival which holds him to a strict set of rules, dictates his entire way of thinking (…) and a world of freedom, of true hidden feelings.”

Budgeted under $1 million, “Darkroom” is produced by Amir Harel and Eyelet Kait at Tel Aviv-based Lama Films.

“The Death of Black Horses” won the second prize, a $25,000 grant from the Beracha Foundation. The film opens in 1914, against the backdrop of WWI and on the eve of the genocide which killed about two million Christian people, including an estimated 1.5 million Armenians, living in the Ottoman Empire. “The Death of Black Horses” centers around Mirza, a 20-year old man from a Kurdish village who sets off with his two brothers to rescue their fourth sibling who has been imprisoned and injured in Russia. Through this journey, Mirza understands his brother has been lied to, like the rest of them, for the sake of the family’s unity.

Karahan is a Kurdish film director based in Istanbul. He said the fact that the region he lives in is “still a den of intrigued rooted in a hundred-year-old issue prompted (him) to make this film.”

Karahan’s debut “The Fall From Heaven” won the best directorial debut award at Ankara International Film Festival and two prizes at Antalya Golden Orange film fest. Italian producer Gabriele Oricchio is producing at Rome-based Blue Door Production.

Spearheaded by Renen Schorr, the founding director of the Sam Spiegel film and TV school, and Ifat Tubi, the associate director of the lab initiative, the international Film Lab presented 11 projects that were developed during a seven-month seminar.