June 30, 2005
‘Water’ Hits High Tide
"Walk on Water" has become the highest-grossing Israeli film in the United States, with box office receipts topping $2.1 million.
That figure may not threaten a George Lucas or Steven Spielberg, but to Israeli filmmakers it is another indication that their products are becoming more appealing to foreign audiences.
Released this year in the United States, the film by New York-born Israeli director Eytan Fox uses the format of an old-fashioned thriller to probe such sensitive topics as relations between Jews and Germans, Israeli attitudes toward Palestinians, and mutual gay-straight suspicions.
Together with "Campfire," "Nina's Tragedies," "Yossi & Jagger" and other recent well-received Israeli features, "Walk on Water" shows that "a new generation of Israeli filmmakers is creating more complex, mature and interesting movies," said Meyer Gottlieb, president of Samuel Goldwyn Films, the American distributor of "Walk on Water," in partnership with Roadside Attractions.
First screened and honored at various international and Jewish film festivals, "Walk on Water" has proven its legs by entering its 16th week at a New York theater.
But even beyond the traditional New York-Los Angeles art theater axis, the film has done well in some 50 American cities, including such heartland spots as Boise and Salt Lake City.
American tastes are also slowly being educated by growing exposure to European and Asian films, which are overcoming audiences' aversion to reading subtitles.
Appreciation of Israeli films has grown through the annual Israel Film festivals in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, and the rapidly multiplying Jewish film festivals throughout the country.
San Francisco and Boston host two of the oldest and most prestigious such festivals, and there is no doubt that "the quality and range of the Israeli cinema have leaped forward in the last five years," said Peter L. Stein, executive director of the San Francisco event.
He attributes the improvement to more government funding, the high level of Israeli film schools, better production values and "fully formed, nuanced storylines."
During this year's July 21-Aug. 8 festival in San Francisco, 16 of the 49 attractions will be Israeli features or documentaries.
At Boston's film festival last November, 11 out of 45 films were Israeli, said executive director Sara Rubin.
"Walk on Water" is playing at the Laemmle's Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills and Laemmle's Monica Fourplex in Santa Monica. For more information, visit www.laemmle.com.