Restoration, a Sundance award recipient

As they say each year in Park City, Utah, at the annual Sundance Film Festival, everyone who participates is a winner. Just being accepted, working on an independent film, attending a panel discussion, sighting a celebutante, or seeing a film, everyone leaves a winner.


But still, awards are given out. And last evening, they closed the open bar for 90 minutes in order to hand out some very prestigious awards, including grand jury prizes, audience awards, and special mentions from the judges. Two Israeli filmmakers were among the official award recipients.

Erez Kav-El won the award for best world cinema dramatic screenplay for his script for RESTORATION, the only Israeli film in the official festival. He wasn’t at the ceremony, so the film’s director, Yossi Madmony, stepped up to the podium to accept the award in Erez’s behalf. Madmony is lucky he was even able to get to the awards. An hour earlier, he had locked himself out of his Park City condo. Luckily, he made it in time.

RESTORATION, which is also known in Israel as BOKER TOV ADON FIDELMAN, is the magical wake up call for and story of Yaakov Fidelman (Sasso Gabay) and his Israeli shop that restores antique furniture; from the shop he can shut out the world. Yaakov knows wood. His business partner, Maxim Malamud, knows people. Actually, Maxim KNEW people. Maxim has suddenly died (after a tryst with a prostitute), and with the loss of the shop’s public face and personality, the business might not survive. Maxim provided Yaakov with the personality he never developed, sort of like the way a twin (Esau) would have taken half the assets.

Yaakov’s son, Noah (Nevo Kimchi), is an attorney with great ambitions. Noah and the quietly dour Yaakov have never been close as son and father, and one can say that Noah perceived Maxim more as his father. Noah says kaddish for the childless Maxim. Noah would prefer to close the shop, forget about restorations, and build apartments atop the workshop.

Anton (Henry David), a mysterious, homeless, former pianist enters the store and becomes Yaakov’s assistant and “new son.” Anton notices the century old Steinway in the corner of the shop. Restoring and selling it would generate the needed cash to save the shop, but it doesn’t just need restored wood, it needs more, just like the Tin Man, Lion, and Pinocchio. Anton also eyes Noah’s very pregnant wife. Chava/Eve (Sarah Adler), a former Israeli teen idol. Notice the names… sure Maxim means great, Fidelman means faithful, but with names like Yaakov, Hava, and Noah, you know it’s gonna get very biblical… or not. The four piece chamber-music score by Avi Belleli quietly reinforces the tensions between the four primary characters

Madmony, who previously co-directed THE BARBEQUE PEOPLE (2003), worked on the script with Erez Kav-El for 18 months before even shooting it. His budget was $400,000. Madmony is a graduate of the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School in Jerusalem. After his film won the screenplay award, Madmony wrote, “We worked on the script together for more than a year and a half, and our main goal was to give the audience the least information possible and yet still have the most compound and complex story that could possibly be. In this sense, I’m very happy that our efforts proved themselves. In another sense, I feel as if we won the best prize today, since the script is the main weapon of low budget productions. I feel as if I’m on the top of the world – and of course right now, that means the top of Utah”

Erez Kav-El’s previous scripts included one for “Five Hours from Paris (Hamesh Shaot m’Pariz),” a 2009 film about an Israeli cab diver who fears flying (but not Israeli traffic), who meets a Russian-born woman in a humble suburb of Tel Aviv. She is a teacher about to fly five hours to Paris. Another script was for “Like a Fish Out of Water,” a 2007 Israeli TV comedy about a new oleh from Argentina who falls for his Israeli Hebrew teacher. Erez is on the faculty of Tel Aviv University in Ramat Aviv.

After hearding the news of his award, Erez Kev-el said, “Winning the screenplay award at Sundance is an extremely exciting milestone for me on the long journey I did with this script, a journey I started alone and later joined by producer Chaim Sharir and director Yossi Madmony. I could not have asked for better partners. Working with Yossi on the script was an enriching and inspiring experience. Yossi taught me that you can never go deep enough. There are not many moments of celebration in the life of an Israeli filmmaker; I thank the Sundance film festival for giving me one.” The producer of the film, Chaim Sharir, added, “As filmmakers who have no chance to compete with Hollywood’s power and film marketing, Sundance is the ultimate answer and a wonderful opportunity to expose our works to the world. And thanks god for Sundance and Robert Redford”

Beautifully composed and edited, and without a hint of politics, many critics saw RESTORATION as a turning point in international Israeli cinema.

This year, the Sundance Institute partnered with the Mahindra Group, one of the largest companies in India, to create the Mumbai Mantra|Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab and the Sundance Institute|Mahindra Global Filmmaking Award. One of the five recipients was Talya Lavie for her film “ZERO MOTIVATION.” Her film is a slightly comic look at the power struggles of three female clerks over one year in an administrative office at a remote army base in the Israeli desert.

Illustration for Zero Motivation

In ZERO MOTIVATION, three consecutive stories (The Substitute, The Virgin and The Commander) recount the events at an army base, but unlike other army genre films, the female clerical staff members have the lead roles. The film depicts the three soldiers’ journeys inside the maze of military bureaucracy. To paraphrase Anton Chekhov’s letter to A. S. Gruzinsky in 1889, “If you put a loaded STAPLE gun in the first act, it better get fired in the next act.”

Talya Lavie, a resident of Tel Aviv, is a graduate of the Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem and studied the Bezalel Art Academy.

Mazel tov to the judges, these two winning films, and those involved in their creation.

About the author