Lebanon takes top honors at Venice Film Fest: One failed war, three successful films

When the Israeli feature film “Lebanon” won the top award Sept. 12 at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, it became the third movie about Israeli soldiers fighting in the First Lebanon War to have captured international honors in the last three years.

Several veterans of that 1982 war are now important players in Israel’s nascent film industry. They have begun to portray their experiences as young soldiers through film, and their stories are resonating with audiences around the world, film experts say.

“These are very personal stories that are told from the gut,” said David Zipkin, head of finance and production at the Israel Film Fund. “These are stories that are told by people who have experienced this war. When you tell a story that has elements of truth, it resonates through audiences.”

“Beaufort,” produced in 2007, depicted the IDF retreat from the Beaufort Castle in southern Lebanon. The film won the Silver Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival and was nominated for several other awards.

Ari Folman’s animated documentary “Waltz with Bashir,” released in 2008, won a Golden Globe, was nominated for an Academy Award and won more than two dozen other awards at film festivals around the world.

“Lebanon,” directed by Israeli filmmaker Samuel Maoz, premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival this summer and follows several battles through the perspectives of four soldiers in a tank crew. The film won the Golden Lion Award, the top honor at the Venice Film Festival.

Simultaneous with the rise of Israel’s film industry — which some film critics say has been experiencing a “golden age” with the major international success of movies like “Jellyfish,” “The Band’s Visit” and “My Father, My Lord” — veterans of the First Lebanon War are opening up and are more willing to tell their stories.

“I think the reason that there are suddenly so many movies about this war is that people who fought in it in their late teens and early 20s are now in their 50s,” said Jerusalem Post film critic Hannah Brown.

“They are ready to sit down and talk about these experiences, which were formative. They are just now at the stage of their lives where they can deal with it.”

Renen Schorr,  director of Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, said that often these kinds of war films were not popular in the already violence-saturated Israeli market, but instead served as a means of expression for their creators.

“These films are tough for the audience and especially for some women. But [the soldiers] from that war are now veterans who are maturing and are ready to open the old wounds.”

Yet despite some distaste for war films within the country, moviegoers can probably expect more stories from the First Lebanon War to come to the silver screen in the near future.

Said Brown: “I would not be surprised if there are veterans right now who are working on novels and screenplays about that most formative experience of their lives.”