Director Eran Kolirin’s "The Band’s Visit" wins the 2007 Cannes Film Festival whilst leading man, Sasson Gabay wins the 2008 European Film Awards for his performance in the film

Eran Kolirin
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Director Eran Kolirin’s The Band’s Visit certainly has come a long way from its surprising, moving premiere at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival to its 2016 opening in Broadway as a stage musical adaptation that went on to win 10 Tony Awards in 2018. The film, starring Sasson Gabay and Saleh Bakri follows an Egyptian band that comes to Israel to play a gig at a peace centre, gets lost, and ends up in a small southern town. “It’s a nod to [Shaike Ophir’s 1971] The Officer on the one hand, and to the weekly Friday afternoon Arab film feature Channel 1 used to show, on the other,” Kolirin explained. “I used to watch those films at my late grandmother’s, which is why the film is dedicated to her.”
The Band’s Visit was competing in the Cannes Film Festival ‘Un Certain Regard’ section – the festival’s second most important section and was given a Special Mention. What is more, it also walked away with the prestigious FIPRESCI Prize and the Award of the Youth. “I’d like to thank the jury and the wonderful people here in Cannes who’ve given the film such a warm welcome,” Kolirin said in his acceptance speech, “and I’d like to repay them that love.” A few months later, leading man Sasson Gabay won his European Actor category at the European Film Awards for his role in the film.
Already at the film’s Cannes premiere, it became obvious that a number of scenes were about to become Israeli cannon. The audience was especially full of praise for the scene where Saleh Bakri who plays Egyptian violinist, Khaled shows one of the townsmen, Pappi (Shlomi Abraham) how to woo the frumpy Yula (Rinat Matatov) at the local disco whilst I Have a Little Bird in my Heart (‘yesh li zipor ktana balev’), a modern adaptation of late Israeli singer-songwriter Yigal Bashan’s hit song plays in the background. “I know that courtship scene with the handkerchief at the disco will become a permanent fixture, along with the memory of the film itself,” Kolirin believes. “I have a lot of affection for it. It is basically the very essence of the film – it sums up the whole atmosphere of The Band’s Visit. At all the major showings, that was when the audience always used to clap. I crafted it based on some theatre acting I’d remembered from summer camp when I was a kid – an acting class with three people when one of them starts moving and the other two then continue that movement. It amuses me how that flash in a pan moment from summer camp ended up becoming one of the scenes that are most synonymous with my body of work.”

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