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Jewish Journal

Golan Takes Films to New Heights

by Amy Klein

May 15, 2003 | 8:00 pm

"Return from India" is one of the 18 new films, documentaries and TV dramas showing at the 19th Israel Film Festival, from May 28-June 8. Based on A.B. Yehoshua's best-selling book "Open Heart," "India," directed and co-produced by veteran filmmaker Menachem Golan, portrays a somewhat preposterous love story between the young Dr. Ben Rubin (Aki Avni) and the older Dori Lazar (Riki Gal) as they accompany her husband (Asi Dayan) to India to save their sick daughter. Golan was nominated for five Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film including "Entebbe: Operation Thunderbolt" (1977) and "Sallah Shabati" (1964); his film "The Assault" (1986) won the Oscar.

Golan lived in Los Angeles for 11 years in the 1980s, running the Cannon Group with his cousin, Yoram Globus, producing and/or directing some 200 features including "Over the Top" (1987) starring Sylvester Stallone and "The Delta Force" (1986), which he co-wrote.

The Jewish Journal caught up with Golan in his North Tel Aviv office, to discuss his life in Los Angeles, the Israeli film industry, and his advice to young Israeli filmmakers.

Jewish Journal: How was your experience living in Los Angeles?

Menachem Golan: I lived in Beverly Hills. I didn't like it that much -- it was one car talking to another car.... In order to succeed there, you have to be very stubborn and fight, and one day you're up among the stars and one day you're down. Here [in Israel] the minute I got status, I was in.

L.A. is a city of movies ... but it's not a pure city; you have to live the life, follow the path, do the drugs and parties and all that s--. In Israel [the film industry] is more pioneering, it's not all about the money. It's about the will, the talent, the knowledge, the love of making movies. In America you need lots of money.

JJ: What do you think an Israeli film needs in order to find an international -- or an American -- audience?

MG: It needs to have an international story, a human story that can be understood in the U.S. If you made a film with an intimate human story -- most Israeli films are welcomed by Jewish audiences, but they don't break in commercially.

We are limited by language, by Americans who are too lazy to read subtitles. They don't like dubbing, they look at us as a European film, but Europe has completely different films.

JJ: What about movies portraying the conflict in Israel? Military films were once very popular.

MG: You see it in the news on a daily basis.... Unfortunately, there's a young generation of filmmakers here trying to bring films to the world with an attitude -- connected to the political situation. It's a mistake: the big, successful Hollywood film "Pretty Woman," can be made from Israel. Many of the stories, which are human stories, are character-driven stories, and would be more accepted by American audiences. In the last few years, many films deal with the war and the conflict, such as love stories between Arabs and Jews, which don't really happen.

JJ: How is the situation affecting the film industry in Israel?

MG: Our industry compared to other small nations is quite advanced, we have more nominations [of] Oscars than Greece, Denmark -- I think we have an open-door policy with Hollywood because it's pro-Jewish.

There is an economic crisis now in Israel. You cannot raise money here privately. You must go to a government-run fund and you are in the hands of a group of frustrated artists who cannot make movies. They usually pick more controversial films -- they don't look at films as popular art.

JJ: Do you think the anti-Zionist sentiments around the world will affect the acceptance of Israeli movies?

MG: Not at all. I think the love for Israel goes way beyond the critical elements of the country.

JJ: What's up next for you?

MG: I'm working on "Badenheim" based on Aharon Appelfeld's novel, "Badenheim 1939," about a group of Jews going to an Austrian resort that summer year, trying to convince themselves that everything is perfectly normal as Hitler is preparing the death camps. It's a satire and has a lot of humor. We're filming in Austria and Germany with a German government grant.

The subject matter [of the Holocaust] has hit a chord with the American audience -- like "Schindler's List," "Life Is Beautiful" and "The Pianist."

JJ: Do you think Israel filmmakers have a responsibility to portray Israel in a positive light?

MG: In a way, without pretense, at least the films shouldn't put Israel to shame. I don't think it serves anybody, especially the Jewish public in America. I don't want to insult the American Jewish public -- they are much more sensitive than Israelis are. I love Israel, I love this country -- it's important to give it a positive image.

Opening night of the festival, honoring Laura Ziskin, Larry King and documentary director Erez Laufer, will take place on May 28, at the Directors Guild of America. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact www.israelfilmfestival.com  or call (877) 966-5566.

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