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November 13, 2009

AND THE WINNER IS…. NOT AN ISRAELI MOVIE

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/and_the_winner_is_not_an_israeli_movie_20091113/


It had been going wonderfully so far. The Utopian atmosphere enveloping the audience made us feel that indeed, Israeli films were getting the international recognition they deserved, proving that in fact, here is Israel, we make good movies. I could almost here the soundtrack of our fuzzy feeling, “…and I think to myself, what a wonderful, wonderful world….”

And then it happened. Enter stage right. Dover Koshashvili takes the mike and the soundtrack changes to “You’re so vain….” As he states matter-of-factly, that he will not be swept into our “euphoria”, and that we are too quick to celebrate the success of Israeli films. Our movies, he says, are “mediocre”… at best.

Let me set stage:  “Sam Spiegel – Film & Television school Jerusalem”  is celebrating 20 years, and yesterday they organized a 12 hour conference to commemorate the event, at the Cinemateque in Jerusalem. The topic: “The Vision of Israeli Cinema”  features well-known personalities and famous members of the Israeli Film Industry such as:

Yael Abecassis (actress and model), Joseph Cedar  (Director and Screenwriter), Shuly Rand  (actor, singer, director and screenwriter), Ari Folman  (Director and Screenwriter), And many more.

When I wasn’t invited to speak, I elegantly crashed the party, and joined the audience of film professionals and Students of the film industry.

Dover Koshashvili,  an acclaimed Israeli director  (Late Marriage, Gift from Above) dared to burst our bubble, and smash the image of Israeli films playing in the big leagues. In his opinion, Israeli films are not all that good, and he’s not sure if we have the abilities to make them better.

The crowd went wild.

Screaming for blood.

A well-known Israeli actress, a Teacher for the school and a fellow director confronted Dover, accusing him of not bothering to watch Israeli films, of crushing the morale of those present and of generally not arguing in an intellectual manner. Although there were only a handful of people participating in this shout-out, I could feel the ground shaking.

Obviously, Koshashvili was treading thin ice, putting down Israeli films and demoralizing future cinema creators – or – was it his way of giving a motivational speech? When asked why our film producers and directors weren’t good enough, he expressed frustration, and couldn’t understand why we didn’t see it for ourselves. Finally, he added: “They’re not Fellini.”

But I was curious. Was Koshashvili on a self-hating rampage? Did the industry deserve his wrath? Did they really care all that much? 

I spent the next several hours interviewing many of the students, and was surprised to learn that most of them did in fact agree with him. They just didn’t feel comfortable expressing their opinion in that particular forum.

But it didn’t make sense. Israeli Films seem to be getting better every year. They’re everywhere. And lately we’ve been on a winning streak, sought after and appreciated by foreign festivals and even nominated for the academy awards. So, if Koshashvili is right you just have to wonder: Does Israel actually deserve the reputation it’s receiving for outstanding film-making?

One film student I interviewed said she had a hard time finding a film worth paying for at the movies, although, she was quick to add, “they are certainly worth downloading.”

Another told me he thought some Israeli films were exceptionally good compared to other Israeli films, but not compared to the films worldwide.

And still another told me that Israeli films all have that heavy atmosphere to them. She had recently come home from Paris and noticed that from the sky, Israel was covered in a cloud , a foggy haze that didn’t dissipate as they came in for a landing. And that, she pointed out, was an appropriate analogy to the film industry.

Tawfik Abu Wael, an accomplished Arab director and screen-writer  (Atash) spoke candidly when he told us he didn’t feel part of the Israeli Film industry. He complained about his unique situation: On the one hand he represents Arabs and makes films about Arabs, and on the other hand, Arabs don’t see movies.

Tawfik’s criticism towards the Israeli Film Industry was courageous and unexpected. He felt that there is indeed an Israeli mainstream, a template which most film-makers are afraid to move away from. He said that not all Israelis are gay, not all are soldiers or left wing, and that he himself would love to see an authentic film of Israeli settlers fighting for their land.

At the end of his short talk, a member of the audience screamed out to him: “Would YOU make a film about Israeli Settlers fighting Arabs for their land?”

Without batting an eyelash, he retorted: “Give me a good script and the money and I’ll make it.”

It’s safe to say that most of us left feeling that the future of the Israeli film industry was in dire straits, not only as far as quality of production and subject matter were concerned, but also because of the growing problems of film piracy, disastrous co-productions, and a sever shortage of funding – all issues that were raised, with a relatively pessimistic view as to solving them.

And yet, the same questions continue to haunt me:  Why does it seem that Israeli Films are gaining recognition around the world? Is it my imagination? Is it a passing fad?

Are Israeli films popular these days because they’re not politically correct? Is conflict “in”? Are our headlines piquing the curiosity of those who think that war and anger are what good movies are all about? Is it the topics we choose rather than the quality?

Or does Israel, in fact, make good movies?

I need to find the answer…soon…before I’m out of a job.

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