Unless you’ve been living in a dark acultural cave, it has become celebrated fact that the Israeli creative industry is in the throes of a modern renaissance. Which makes the annual Israel Film Festival, set to roll out the red carpet for its 27th year next March, a gift to Los Angeles, and its two week-film program, an anticipated moment on the city’s cultural calendar.
But there is another reason why this year’s festival will be significant: Hollywood is paying close attention.
That arousing energy animated the festival’s sponsor luncheon on Thursday, an intimate gathering for supporters from the worlds of film, fashion and philanthropy at the SLS Hotel. “This combines the two things I love most,” said comedian and actor Elon Gold, who served as emcee. “Israel and the movies.”
During the two-hour luncheon, supporters were frank about the opportunity to further endorse the business relationship between Hollywood and Israel.
“We’re in a golden period when it comes to Israeli culture,” said Consul General of Israel David Siegel. With hits like “Homeland” continuing to absorb American audiences, and a spate of consecutive Oscar nominations for Israeli films, Hollywood is increasingly looking to Israel as a cultural and commercial ally.
“We don’t have a week without someone coming to us and saying, ‘I’d like to do this in Israel; help me make it happen,’” Siegel said. “It’s a really special time and we have to work with Hollywood to make more happen.”
Over wild arugula salads and fleshy, fillets of salmon festival director Meir Fenigstein feted this year’s big donors, including the Israeli-born real estate developer Izek Shomof, known for revitalizing several blocks of Spring Street in Downtown L.A., as well as banking executive Yoav Peled, vice president of the California branch of the Israel Discount Bank.
“That so Jewish,” Gold said of the bank’s name. “It’s like, cheap people don’t spend. We spend --- as long as we spend less. As long as we get a good deal.”
The tongue-in-cheek joke fell on the ears of several prominent philanthropists, including Israeli-American Adam Milstein, managing partner with Hager Pacific Properties and a founder of the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, and the Holocaust survivors turned American success stories, Max Webb and Jonah Goldrich. But Fenigstein was careful not to put too much pressure on those with deep pockets. “It’s a bad economy,” he told me during cocktail hour on the outdoor patio. “I’m starting early and going slow.”
Instead of a pitch, he appealed to donor appetites and emotions, offering a preview of films from the festival’s March slate.
Los Angeles is one of only three American cities to host the Israel Film Festival, which also runs in New York and Miami, and presents a prime opportunity to foster the Hollywood-Israel connection.
And there’s probably no sweeter music to donors’ ears than to hear that their contribution is also a good investment.