Atomic Falafel

In a world of film adaptations of popular books, multiple Spider-Man franchises, and enough prequels and sequels to keep audiences satisfied for years, it isn’t often film-goers come across a truly unique and fearless piece of work.

Enter “Atomic Falafel.” The satire is written and directed by Dror Shaul, an Israeli filmmaker known for his 1999 cult-classic comedy “Mivtza Savta” (“Operation Grandma”) and his 2006 autobiographical film “Adama Meshuga’at” (“Sweet Mud”) which took home the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema–drama at the Sundance Film Festival.

Called an “exuberant, delightfully absurd comedy” by Variety, the production of “Atomic Falafel” had huge aspirations–Shaul’s intention was for the film to be the first Israeli-Iranian co-production in history. After a five and a half year struggle to finance the film, and Iranian producers dropping out a mere two months before shooting began, it’s incredible the movie was still able to get made.

Pushing a generally pro-peace message, the wacky satire is being regarded as Shaul’s own “Dr. Strangelove.” “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” a 1964 political satire black comedy film by Stanley Kubrick that critic Roger Ebert described as “arguably the best political satire of the century.”

“Atomic Falafel” tells the story of two teenage girls living in towns housing nuclear reactors, one in Iran, the other in Israel, connecting and forming a relationship over the internet. Shaul was fascinated with the idea that while the adults in the world of “Atomic Falafel” (as well as the real world) are producing weapons of mass destruction while the younger generations are doing the exact opposite over the internet. Bonding over mutual interests in music, fashion, and ideas, Shaul told the Jerusalem Post “They [teens] all want to be popular, they all have slang, their attitude is the same.”

And while the director certainly pokes fun at the current tensions between Iran and Israel, his intentions were to simply make light of a very serious situation, but not to provoke anger. He told the Jerusalem Post he hoped his film would inspire viewers to “…look at the serious side, to look at army issues, and the pathos and the heroism we were brought up with and say, does it still work?”

Movies Under the Stars Project Extended

Movies Under the Stars, a New York City summer outdoor film screening program, has continued to be a hit since its inception a few years ago. Every summer, multiple venues throughout the city host outdoor screenings of both new and classic films. This past year’s HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival showcased a few very familiar titles including Ghostbusters, Footloose, Chinatown, and Back to the Future. 

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The program’s outdoor locations include the Central Astoria Waterfront, Central Park, Washington Square Park, Tompkins Square Park, and Columbia University. Due to the program’s popularity, Movies Under the Stars has been extended for another month, adding quite a few August viewings. All five boroughs will host family-friendly events, showing The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Wiz, Annie, Mad Hot Ballroom, and Enchanted. More parks around the city are also joining the summer fun to enhance exposure to participating New Yorkers.

Los Angeles has a similar summer outdoor screening program beginning in April and lasting until the end of October. The fair LA weather makes it easier to hold outdoor events for a longer duration of time. This summer, a 2015 Master Calendar was released, allowing everyone to easily schedule which screenings they would like to attend. For the month of August, some great films are lined up including Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club,  The Princess Bride, Mean Girls, and Big Hero 6. Screenings are spread throughout L.A. to venues like the Lou Bredlow Pavilion in Warner Park, La Cienega Park, Pacific Palisades, and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Outdoor screenings give people the old-school drive-up theater experience for a low cost and easy convenience. Many look forward to the festivals every year. With the increase in popularity, both New York and L.A. are going to have to find new venues, additional support, and a larger number of eligible films. At least this is a good problem to have!

32nd Jerusalem Film Festival

On Thursday, July 9th, the Israeli film scene was brought to center stage with the opening of the 32nd Jerusalem Film Festival. This year was the first since the controversial move to pull the film “Beyond the Fear”, the documentary based on Yigal Amir who killed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabain in 1995.

Roy-Dekel-FilmFestThe biggest concept this year is: mixing political and socially charged films, featuring controversial directors such as Hadar Morag, Evgeny Ruman, and Avishai Sivan. Morag’s film titled “Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me” follows the journey of Muhammad, a man with family ties to a collaborator with Israeli security services. Muhammad befriends a lone ranger who rides his motorcycle into the inner city. Ruman’s psychological drama, “The Man in the Wall”, spans over one night in a Tel Aviv Apartment. The film was recently played in Rotterdam where it was nominated for a Fipresci prize. The 2010 Cannes Golden Camera winner, Avishai Sivan, will be showing “Tikkun,” the story of a ultra-Orthodox scholar who is involved in a serious accident, which in turn makes him apathetic to his studies. His father, who brought him back to life is tormented by thinking he has crossed God’s will.

International standouts include the critically acclaimed Amy Whinehouse documentary, “Amy,” by British born Asif Kapadia, and Taiwanese director Hou Hsais-Hisen’s, “The Assassin.” The festival also will have special features, including an appearance from this years Lifetime Achievement award winner John Turturro and a screening of the drama “Mia Madre” from Italian director Nanni Moretti. Turturro will also be involved in master classes with Gitai and Seidl.

The 10th anniversary of the Jerusalem Pitch Point session will include a focus on co-producers between international cinema and Israel, and a panel on the topic of Israeli cinema in the eyes of foreign media. The festival will conclude on Sunday, July 19th with a open-air screening of “The Godfather”, and a live orchestral score conducted by John Freer.

18th Annual Shanghai Film Festival

Roy-Dekel-SIFFThis past weekend marked the kick-off the the 18th Annual Shanghai International Film Festival. The 2015 showcase is slated to run from June 13th to June 21st. Films for exhibition include Leviafan, Boyhood, The Theory of Everything, Weekend, Once Upon a Time in America, and The Last Emperor.

The Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF) was established in 1993 and is currently the only International Federation of Film Producers Associations approved festival in China. The purpose of the festival is the highlight the rapidly growing Chinese film industry, while also presenting awards, panels, workshops, and markets aimed at garnering an even bigger international audience. As Chinese economy has grown, the Chinese film industry has been able to reach new heights. The SIFF is now a prosperous event for filmmakers and producers worldwide. In 2014, an astounding 447 mainstream media sources and 1,385 journalists reported on the SIFF, including local Chinese networks like the Xinhua News Agency, Shanghai Media Group, and CCTV. Foreign broadcasts like “The Wall Street Journal,” “The New York Times,” “Reuters,” and “Associated Press” were also in attendance.

The festival’s primary award is the Golden Goblet Award. Recipients are selected by a panel of highly qualified film industry professionals. Categories include: Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, and Outstanding Artistic Achievement. 2015 nominees represent 12 countries including Japan, Korea, France, USA, Iran, and of course, China. The Asian New Talent Award, celebrating emerging actors, screenwriters, and cinematographers based in the Asian continent has been revamped and is ready for the 2015 festival.

In addition to the films up for consideration, the SIFF has a running schedule of hot titles screenings including Gone Girl, The Wizard of Oz, Goodfellas, A Beautiful Mind, and Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

As the SIFF gains popularity, ticket sales and high profile celebrity appearances are expected to increase.