“I’m not a temple Jew, I’m not a ritual Jew, I don’t follow the holidays, but I am a Jew from the tip of my toes to the top of what remains of my hair,” actor Richard Dreyfuss announced to the applause at the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hilton where the Gala Awards Dinner of the 25th Anniversary Israel Film Festival took place on October 20. “I have a pride that I am a member of a group of people who have astonished the world in such a consistent way and who has given more gifts to mankind than anyone else.”
The event brought together leaders in the American-Israeli entertainment community, friends of the honorees, and the filmmakers being represented at the Israel Film Festival, being held at Laemmle theaters in the Los Angeles area through November 4.Comedian and actor Elon Gold emceed, and IFF Founder and Executive Director Meir Fenigstein made opening remarks.
Longtime UCLA Hillel Director Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller presented Dreyfuss with the Career Achievement Award for a career spanning five decades. He is best remembered for his roles in such films as American Graffiti, Jaws and Mr. Holland’s Opus, but Seidler-Feller Dreyfuss also acknowledged his political activism and dedication to ethical values and social justice. A self-professed agnostic, Dreyfuss announced to a room full of American and Israeli Jews, that he’s “willing to be surprised.”
Sylvester “Sly” Stallone introduced blockbuster action film producer and Co-Chairman and CEO of Nu Umage/Millenium Films, Avi Lerner, as the man who “put his money where my mouth is.” Their working relationship dates back to Lerner’s production of the Rambo franchise and continued with the recent release of the box office hit The Expendables, also starring Dolph Lundgren, the the Swedish action film star who played the Russian fighter in Rocky IV and who was also on hand to honor his film mentor.
The Israeli-born Lerner accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award in his unmistakable Israeli accent, saying:, “My mother always told me if someone gives something for free, take it,” although Lerner has been a longtime supporter of the Israel Film Festival. He concluded with a message on behalf of the release of Israel’s captured soldier, Gilad Shalit.
Actor Topher Grace introduced CEO of Relativity Media, Ryan Kavanaugh, who described their friendship as a bond that grew out of a conversation about the (tall shiksa) girlfriends they inadvertently shared. The sought-after producer confided how some people might mistake him for an Irishman because of his red, spiky hair, but the grandson of Holocaust survivors is a very proud Jew and supporter of Israel, with the crux of his speech dedicated to listing the numerous achievements of Israel in science and education.
Titanic and Avatar producer and COO of Lightstorm Entertainment, Jon Landau, accepted the Visionary Award, presented by Co-Chairman Fox Filmed Entertainment Jim Gianopulos. Landau credited his Jewish identity to inspiring him towards film greatness.
“It meant more than where you went to temple, but how you lived your life.”