The Jerusalem Post
LA Film Festival brings Israeli productions to Hollywood
Israel punches above its weight when it comes to movie and television productions. Israeli films have received 10 nominations for best foreign-language film Oscars – more than movies from far bigger countries like China and Russia – with this year’s Foxtrot possibly making it 11.
Israeli TV series like Fauda and Mossad 101, in the original Hebrew and Arabic, are seen on Netflix in 190 countries. Israeli TV formats, reconceived in English for American TV, include B’Tipul/In Treatment and Hatufim/Homeland.
An Israeli director, Ariel Vromen, is even attached to the reboot of the iconic American film Rambo – and just finished filming Netflix’s The Angel (a Hebrew/English/ Arabic production about an Egyptian double agent during the lead-up to the Yom Kippur War).
For 31 years, the Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles has brought Israeli movies to Hollywood. Last month’s festival, for the first time, also featured television-focused programming.
The festival’s founder and director Meir Fenigstein says he thinks Israeli TV shows resonate with a worldwide audience because of their realism. For example, Lior Raz, the co-creator of Fauda, was actually an Israeli special forces soldier.
“He knows it in and out. He’s not just a writer,” Fenigstein told The Jerusalem Post on the sidelines of the festival, which opened with gala honoring Foxtrot’s star Lior Ashkenazi and Transparent’s Jeffrey Tambor, who has since been dismissed from the show due to sexual harassment allegations.
The festival is supported in part by the Israeli government, via the Israeli Consulate’s public diplomacy program, which pays to send filmmakers and actors to the Festival.
Over the years, almost 1,000 Israeli films have been screened in LA to nearly a million viewers, and more than 450 Israeli filmmakers have visited as part of the Festival. At last month’s festival, 23 features, five documentaries, six shorts and five TV series were screened over two weeks.
The opening night film was Ben-Gurion, Epilogue, winner of Israel’s Ophir Award for Best Documentary. The film is based on long-lost English-language interviews discovered by accident by director Yariv Mozer and producer/editor Yael Perlov.
“We were searching for a feature film by one of the legendary filmmakers of Israel,” said Mozer. “It was presumed lost. We found the film – called 42:6 – at the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive at Hebrew University. And next to it was a pile of 35-millimeter reels of an interview with Ben-Gurion that was conducted as research for the script. And when we found the interview, it was without sound.”
The archive staff believed that the soundtrack had vanished for good, but the filmmakers weren’t about to give up.
“We started the very long research which eventually led us to the sound recording made by a British Jew named Malcolm Stuart, then 86 years old. He donated the reels a few years ago to the Ben-Gurion University in the Negev without knowing that the images were in Jerusalem.”
Mozer had seen 42:6 – a 1970 dramatization of the life of Ben-Gurion directed by Perlov’s father, David, an Israel Prize-winner – only in a VHS version. The original feature film is being restored and will be re-released later this year.
Another showcase event was the screening of Azimuth, the first feature film directed by American-born Israeli actor Mike Burstyn.
“Up until now I didn’t think I was mature enough to direct,” he joked. He also wrote the screenplay.
Burstyn was raised in a family of Yiddish theater performers, moved to Israel as a child, and achieved stardom with his role in the film The Two Kuni Lemls.
What inspired his film? “Fifty years ago I was in the Six Day War, and after the war ended a very dear friend of mine gave me a two-page outline of a story. I’ve been holding this story for almost 50 years. I figured this was the right time to do something with it.”
His film is set two days after the war and tells the story of two soldiers – one Israeli, and one Egyptian – who battle for a deserted house in the Sinai and for the jeep that’s their only hope for survival.
“The message of the film,” he says, “is that there is hope for us and our neighbors in the Middle East.”
The festival also featured Maktub, a comedy directed by Oded Raz about two criminals who are the only survivors of a terrorist attack at a Jerusalem restaurant. They decide to atone for their sins by granting the wishes left on notes in the Kotel. First-time screenwriters Hanan Savyon and Guy Amir (who also star) noted that it’s not so often that comedies from Israel reach an international audience.
“The film was in a special comedy group funded by the Israeli Film Fund,” said Savyon. “We were one of two comedy films to get funding. I think it’s a good thing that people should see more comedies from Israel because it puts Israel in a different light.”
They’ve got an idea for an American version of their film – but is America ready for a terrorism comedy? “It’s not a terrorism comedy. What we’re trying to say is, even if you’re in the worst situation of your life, you can choose two routes: one is to get revenge, and the other is to understand that maybe something good can come from it.”