How new Is­raeli direc­tors are get­ting us hooked

The best new films by young Is­raelis are about to be shown at two Lon­don events

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&books 35 - BY ANNE JOSEPH

IS­RAEL’S CUL­TURAL, PO­LIT­I­CAL, re­li­gious and his­tor­i­cal di­ver­sity pro­vides ex­cep­tional fod­der for the coun­try’s film in­dus­try. So it is no sur­prise that Is­rael has had a no­table do­mes­tic film in­dus­try for some time, with Is­raeli-made films nom­i­nated for more Academy Awards — seven so far — than any other na­tion in the Mid­dle East. But the coun­try is now, in­creas­ingly, mak­ing its mark on the in­ter­na­tional film cir­cuit, gain­ing recog­ni­tion and scoop­ing awards at fes­ti­vals world­wide for films such as The Band’s Visit, Jel­ly­fish and Beau­fort, Joseph Cedar’s 2008 film nom­i­nated for Best For­eign Lan­guage Film at the Os­cars, as well as Waltz With Bashir, which was shown in com­pe­ti­tion at Cannes ear­lier this month.

Those­whowant­toseethe­workofthe Is­raeli film-mak­ers of to­mor­row will have two chances to do so next month, when Tel Aviv Univer­sity holds its sec­ond an­nual stu­dent film event from June 3 to 5, and the Jerusalem Foun­da­tion screens short films from Jerusalem film schools on June 16, both at venues in Lon­don.

Key fac­tors in the growth of Is­rael’s cin­ema was the de­vel­op­ment of Chan­nel Two television in the 1990s as well as cable com­pa­nies. This pro­vided new out­lets for Is­raeli film­mak­ers, with the cable com­pa­nies pro­vid­ing the fi­nances. The in­dus­try re­ceived a fur­ther boost in 2001, when the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment passed a Cin­ema Law en­abling it to put sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing di­rectly into the film in­dus­try.

Ac­cord­ing to Amir Tausinger, a young film-maker and grad­u­ate of the De­part­ment of Film and Television at Tel Aviv Univer­sity, Is­raeli fea­ture-film suc­cess has meant that film stu­dents “now have some­thing to as­pire to”.

But along­side the crit­i­cal ac­claim and awards for such films, Is­raeli stu­dent film is prov­ing to be a dy­namic and creative force in its own right. This can be viewed as “re­flect­ing the in­ner soul of Is­raeli so­ci­ety and of the stu­dents, not just as fig­ures of con­flict”, says Jeremy Leigh, lec­turer at the Roth­berg In­ter­na­tional School at Jerusalem’s He­brew Univer­sity.

Amy Kro­nish, for­mer cu­ra­tor of Jewish and Is­raeli film at the Jerusalem Cine­math­eque-Is­raeli Film Ar­chive, agrees: “Stu­dent films tend to be a spec­trum of what’s go­ing on in so­ci­ety. Po­lit­i­cally con­scious, stu­dents are in­ter­ested in so­ci­ety as a whole.”

Pro­fes­sor Han­nah Naveh, dean of the Fac­ulty of Arts at Tel Aviv Univer­sity, whose film school is pro­vid­ing the shorts to be screened in Lon­don next week, ar­gues that stu­dent films “pro­vide a very ac­cu­rate snap­shot of them­selves and their so­ci­ety. What they show is very nor­mal; not a stereo­type. Stu­dent films pro­vide an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity to see ev­ery­day life in Is­rael.”

A broad range of sub­jects is tack­led, notes Tausinger: “Film school is the place to make films that are not based on box-of­fice tak­ings or rat­ings. They can make you think… give you some­thing to dis­cuss.”

“Stu­dent film is a spe­cific type of film­mak­ing and stu­dents re­ally por­tray things as they see them,” adds Eli­nor Honig­stein, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Tel Aviv Univer­sity Trust, which is op­er­at­ing the Lon­don screen­ings on be­half of the univer­sity. “Some­times in do­ing so they bring painful is­sues to the fore. Keep­ing a bal­ance is very im­por­tant when choos­ing the films we screen.”

This year’s choice in­cludes Roads, a pow­er­ful film about a young Is­raeli Arab try­ing to find his way out of the drug slums in the city where he lives. It has won sev­eral awards at film fes­ti­vals and was a fi­nal­ist in the For­eign Film cat­e­gory of the stu­dent Os­cars.

An­other is Pin­has, which tells the story of a 10-year-old boy, the son of a Rus­sian-born sin­gle mother, whose search for al­ter­na­tive parental fig­ures leads to cul­tural mis­un­der­stand­ings.

The Jerusalem Foun­da­tion’s short films have been made by stu­dents from a num­ber of the city’s film schools, in­clud­ing the Sam Spiegel Film and Tele­vi­son School, the Beza­lel Academy of Arts and De­sign and Ma’ale School of Television and the Arts.

At Ma’ale, the only re­li­gious film school in the world, ob­ser­vant stu­dents may approach any sub­ject but there is an un­der­stand­ing that no nu­dity, sex or bad lan­guage is used in their films.

Katie Green, the school’s head of spe- cial projects, feels that the films they pro­duce give an ac­cu­rate por­trayal of Is­rael, which is why they are sold as ed­u­ca­tional re­sources to Jewish com­mu­ni­ties and schools world­wide. “There is de­spair at how Is­rael is re­ported — as a place of con­flict. But our films show a variety of is­sues and lives,” says Green.

Jerusalem Foun­da­tion vice-pres­i­dent Alan Free­man agrees: “Film schools… pro­vide a win­dow into Jerusalem’s vi­brant cul­tures and com­mu­ni­ties.”

A still from Roads, a film about a young Is­raeli Arab try­ing find his way his way out of the slums

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