After Keren Margalit's boyfriend died in an army-related accident a decade ago, she envisioned the drama that would become "All I've Got," the opening-night film of the 2003 Israel Film Festival. The story revolves around a young woman who loses her boyfriend in a grisly car wreck; 50 years later, she must choose between accompanying her first love or her husband into the afterlife.
"In the first years after you lose someone, you're just struggling to feel better," Margalit, 32, said of the film's genesis. "Then you continue your life, you marry and have children, but at one point you wonder, 'What if some day the one I loved knocked on my door?' Actually it's a common experience in Israel because everyone knows someone who went to the army and died young."
Margalit's intense but intimate work is typical of the eight movies by female directors that make up a quarter of the festival's films, according to program director Paul Fagen. They include Dina Zvi-Riklis' Cyrano-like "The Postwoman" and Hadar Friedlich's "Slaves of the Lord," about an Orthodox girl's descent into madness.
The films indicate the progress women have made -- spurred by the establishment of a second Israeli TV channel -- in a field long dominated by male directors such as Amos Gitai.
In fact, Channel Two's pioneering "Reflections of Women" program -- a series of four made-for-TV movies, all of which will screen during the festival -- gave Margalit the chance to direct her debut feature, "All I've Got." "Reflections" provided a similar break for esteemed documentarian Dalia Mevorach of "1,000 Calories."
Speaking by phone from Tel Aviv, the jovial Mevorach said she was drawn to Nava Semel's comic script about three best friends at a health spa because, "My life is a continued diet, a big struggle. Israeli women are nervous about the political situation, so we are going to the refrigerator."
The 47-year-old director said she made the severely overweight character, Avigail (Esthie Zakheim), the heroine to combat lingering Israeli myths about female body image. Apparently the strategy worked.
"Esthie was in the mall recently and women kept coming up to her and saying, 'You are like a queen,'" Mevorach added. "They see the message as, 'I'm fat and I'm still beautiful.'"