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Israeli international film festival celebrates its ‘bat mitzvah’ year in London

Co-founder Odelia Haroush: Seret is bringing “unstoppable” female talent to the United Kingdom.

From the film “All I Can Do,” starring Ania Bukstein, part of the Seret International Israeli Film Festival in the United Kingdom, May 2023. Credit: Courtesy.
From the film “All I Can Do,” starring Ania Bukstein, part of the Seret International Israeli Film Festival in the United Kingdom, May 2023. Credit: Courtesy.

After a drizzly start to May, London is being dealt a much-needed dose of Mediterranean color this weekend with a showcase of Israel’s best new cinema taking place across the city.

The Seret International Israeli Film Festival (seret is Hebrew for “movie”) will also hold screenings in Cambridge and Brighton between May 18 and May 25.

Odelia Haroush, the festival’s Tel Aviv-born co-founder, told JNS that Seret brought the festival to London 12 years ago “because we knew there was a hole in the market for Israeli film.”

Even those who don’t speak French or Italian admire the cinema associated with those countries, so why couldn’t the same be the case for Israeli film, she and her colleagues wondered.

Obviously, the startup nation’s cinematic output does not rival the reputation and longevity of Hollywood and European film centers, but Haroush said that Israeli cinema has come along in leaps and bounds since the festival’s launch in 2012. And Seret has expanded to Chile, Argentina, the Netherlands and Germany.

“The content is amazing, and the industry is really thriving,” she told JNS. “Israeli creators are winning international prizes, and we want to make sure their art is open to as many people as possible, not just people in Israel or the Jewish Diaspora.”

This year’s festival has the theme of “Women in the Film and TV Industry.”

“The year 12 is such a significant one in Judaism—when a girl becomes bat mitzvah,” Haroush said. “We wanted to celebrate this by focusing on women’s creators and stories.”

Seret made a “specific effort to showcase more films directed or produced by women, or ones in which women are the lead characters,” she said. And, for the second year in a row, it is running a short-film competition for Israeli film students and alumni.

‘The cultural arena should be heard’

Haroush cited “All I Can Do” as an example of the festival’s crème de la crème. “It’s a powerful story about a young lawyer working on a sexual-assault case. It is a complex story but one that I think captures something about the true nature of strength, love and sisterhood, and of course the hurdles of the legal system in many such cases,” she explained.

“The content is amazing, and the industry is thriving.”

Russian-born Israeli actress, singer and pianist Ania Bukstein, who stars in it and whose other credits include “Game of Thrones,” will participate in a question-and-answer session following a May 21 screening at the Belsize Park Everyman Cinema in North London.

Haroush also highlighted the documentary “Women of Valour,” which tells the story of Israeli activist Esty Shushan, as a standout. Sushan is scheduled to speak after a screening of the film on May 22.

“It covers her real-life experience of being an Orthodox religious woman in Israel who is trying to be politically active,” Haroush said. “This is still extremely difficult.”

Some of the films on the docket at “funny and light” fare, including “Hummus Full Trailer,” which was chosen for opening night on May 18.

“It is a comedy of errors that involves a diverse cross-section of Israeli people from ultra-Orthodox arms dealers, gay flower growers, Arab smugglers and Thessaloniki gangsters,” Haroush said. “For an opening night, it is the film to have, no question.”

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