Expanding to include Byron Bay and Canberra for the first time, 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the Australian Israeli Cultural Exchange’s Israeli Film Festival (AIF). Originally started in Melbourne, the festival program was created as a link between Australian and Israeli cultures. Now, a few days out from its 10th season, the festival has announced this program – cross-section of Israel’s most considered, thought provoking films and documentaries.

Speaking over the phone, AIF’s artistic director Keith Lawrence says the festival program has done much to break down common misconceptions about Israeli culture in Australia. “Essentially, 10 years ago, very little was known in Israel about Australia. And Australian knowledge of Israel was based on what people saw on the news, about the conflict, etcetera etcetera,” he says. “So the idea was to promote a greater understanding of the two countries through culture.”

The films will be shown at selected Palace Cinemas all over Australia, from August 13–29. It’s a short and sweet festival and Lawrence says that film is the best way for people to understand different cultures. “Film is one of the most accessible forms of understanding,” he says. “It’s the perfect window to look through to see and understand another cultures beliefs and values. There’s a similar festival going on in Israel, showcasing Australian film.”

While Israeli cinema is relatively small in comparison to most of the European countries, it’s known for producing cutting, controversial documentaries, and 2013 is no exception. One of the key speakers at this year’s festival, Dror Moreh, directed and created a documentary film titled The Gatekeepers, which documented the inner workings of Israel’s internal security agency, Shin Bet, over a period of five years. It recently became the second most viewed film in Israeli cinema history.

“It’s hugely controversial,” says Lawrence of the film. “Because how often do you get the head of internal security organisations talking about their strategies? The man, Dror Moreh is an investigative journalist and he made the film over five years. He is a well respected journalist, so he got access to those people.”

Other speakers at the festival include Hollywood producer Howard Rosenman and Israeli actress Sivan Levy. Rosenman is the producer behind Hollywood films and series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sparkle and Father of the Bride, and Levy features in three films at this year’s Israeli Film Festival.

Below is a list of must see films, recommended by Lawrence:

The Gatekeepers
A documentary film following the six heads of the Israeli internal security agency, Shin Bet, over a period of five years. Directed and written by Israeli journalist, Dror Moreh, it gives audiences a powerful insight into Israeli security strategy.

Slower Than a Heartbeat
A lingering, poetic film with a wildly different aesthetic to most Israeli films. “It is very European, very French,” says Lawrence. “It’s a love triangle with a difference. It’s a love story between a female novelist, a poet/graffiti artist and a transsexual, ultra-orthodox male. It’s essentially a very muted kind of film, filmed mostly at night or early in the morning.”

The Ballad of the Weeping Spring
Touted as Israel’s first ‘falafel western’, The Ballad of the Weeping Spring takes predictable spaghetti western themes and applies them in the Middle East. “ It’s thoroughly entertaining,” says Lawrence. “It’s very predictable, but it’s great. It’s a real celebration of the Middle East and music.”

For times, tickets and information, visit the AIF website. The festival will run in Sydney from August 13-29, and in Melbourne from August 14-28.