For the second consecutive year critics lauded a Palestinian-themed movie at the Israeli Film Festival in Los Angeles. In 1997, Ali Nasser's The Milky Way, dealing with the Israeli occupation of the Galilee, won rave reviews. In 1998, Circus Palestina, an improbable story of a Russian circus arriving in the West Bank during the Intifada, captured the hearts of critics.
Both films were largely funded by the state Fund for the Promotion of Israeli Quality Films and both offer a realistic picture of life under military occupation.
Circus Palestina opened the 15th annual Israeli Film Festival in Los Angeles and was repeated to a full house two weeks later. The film was written and directed by Eya Halfon, a former journalist who served in Israel's Reserve Force on the West Bank during the Intifada.
It may seem improbable that a European circus would have travelled to the West Bank during the hazardous years of the Intifada. However, Halfon says this did happen and points to the tattered remains of a circus tent he claims to have discovered outside Tel Aviv, as proof.
However, the real inspiration for the story came to him more than two decades ago when he read a story about unexplainable lion pawprints discovered in the vicinity of Jerusalem.
Halfon's first feature film Cup Final, was a portrayal of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Israelis were not pleased with the film although it did win some awards in Europe.
The commercial failure of the project convinced Halfon he should cloak any further examination of Israeli-Palestinian conflicts in the disguise of a flight of fantasy.
He does this sublimely in Circus Palestina, which contains Fellini-like scenes of circus trucks winding through West Bank roads with acrobats, clowns and outrageously dressed contortionists sitting beneath a beach umbrella in a flat bed truck.
The well-meaning Israeli, Sergeant Bleiberg, (Yoram Chatav) falls in love with the shapely lion tamer (Evgenia Dudina), while the villainous Colonel Oz secretly...