The International Spirit Film Festival 2024

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The Monk and the Gun

The International Spirit Film Festival is distinctive in its focus on cinema that has the potential to effect change, films that focus on spirituality, personal growth, and reflection on the human spirit, seeking to encourage dialogue and promote values of tolerance, equality, and freedom. Founded in 2007, the festival’s 17th edition will take place from February 28 – March 2, 2024, at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. Originally scheduled to take place in November, the festival was postponed due to the war. On the decision to hold the festival, albeit in a modified format, Harsita and Anamika Eshel, the festival’s initiators and directors, released a statement: “In these difficult and complex times, our goal is to create a place of encounter and unity, of refuge and hope, to give the audience the opportunity to disconnect for a few hours from everything that is happening around and to be inspired by consciousness-expanding content.”

Opening the festival on February 29th will be The Monk and the Gun, directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji. The comedy/drama is Dorji’s second feature film, following his popular, Oscar-nominated, debut Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (2019), about a young man who dreams of emigrating and becoming a singer, who is sent to teach in a remote, mountain school. The Monk and the Gun focuses on the impact of change on the people of Bhutan, which changed its form of government from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy and was one of the last countries to introduce television and the internet. The film is set in 2006, as a mock election is planned to teach the citizens about voting and democracy, setting in motion diverse responses among the many characters in the film, who include a monk with a secret mission, an election official, villagers, and an American collector. The Monk and the Gun was Bhutan’s entry for Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards and was one of 15 finalists in the December shortlist.

The Spirit Film Festival program includes features, documentaries, and short films, as well as lectures. New to this year’s festival will be a competition of Israeli short films. Films of up to 30 minutes in length will be shown in two, 100-minute programs.

The festival program includes several films that will be accompanied by a lecture, among them are:

The Zen Diary (Japan/2022/111 min/Japanese with Hebrew subtitles)

Directed by Yuji Nakae, the feature follows Tsutomo, a writer who lives alone in a mountain cabin, creating meals from the fruits and mushrooms he collects, and the vegetables he grows. Beneath the external serenity of his life is an inner conflict: although 13 years have passed since her death, Tsutomo cannot bury his wife’s ashes. The film stars Kenji Sawada and Takako Matsu. The screening on Friday, March 1st will be accompanied by a talk on Zen by Prof. Jacob Raz, former head of the Department of East Asian Studies at Tel Aviv University. The screening on Saturday, March 2nd will be accompanied by a talk by Maty Lieblich, co-founder and academic director of the Mindfulness Based Psychotherapy program supervised by The School of Social Work of Bar Ilan University.

Wild Women (Belgium/2021/90 min/French, Turkish, English with Hebrew subtitles)

Directed by Cécile Mavet, the documentary is an inner adventure that follows the filmmaker’s six-month retreat in the middle of a forest, cut off from the world in complete solitude. The screening on Friday, March 1st will be accompanied by a talk by Leila Kamhi, who leads spiritual journeys around the world. The screening on Saturday, March 2nd will be accompanied by a talk by Dr. Naama Oshri, a student and teacher of Zen.

Pain Brain (USA/2023/55 min/English with Hebrew subtitles)

Directed by Mitch Dickman, Tim Kaminski, and Laurie Polisky, the documentary takes a look at chronic pain, and explores the suggestion of therapist Alan Gordon that psychology can be used to alleviate pain. The screening on Friday, March 1st will be accompanied by a talk by medical psychologist Yoav Bar-Yosef, on pain treatment and the concepts of body and mind from the Middle Ages to the present day.

Dosed: The Trip of a Lifetime (Canada/2022/85 min/English with Hebrew subtitles)

Directed by Nicholas Meyers and Tyler Chandler, the documentary follows the experiences of Laurie Brooks, a mother of four who, diagnosed with cancer, receives an exemption permitting her to legally use psilocybin (mushrooms).  The screening on Friday, March 1st will be accompanied by a talk by Dr. Ariel Warner who specializes in transpersonal psychology.

Becoming aNader (Israel/2023/79 min/Hebrew)

Directed by Hanita Atun and Roy Dagon, the documentary follows Dr. Oded Kessler, a mainstream doctor, who encounters the teachings of Dr. Nader Butto, and embarks on a journey of spiritual healing. The screening on Thursday, February 29th will be accompanied by a talk on integrative medicine by Dr. Nader Butto.

 

The full festival program may be found on the Spirit Festival website.