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Jewish Journal

The Woody Allen Israel Project

by Rob Eshman

July 4, 2012 | 1:32 pm

Woody Allen. Photo by Ilya Mauter/Wikipedia

Woody Allen. Photo by Ilya Mauter/Wikipedia

Here’s this week’s not-so-crazy idea: Let’s all pitch in, just a few dollars each, and fund Woody Allen’s next movie — in Israel.

With the release of his latest film this week, “To Rome With Love,” Woody has hit the interview circuit. One question that keeps coming up is why the filmmaker who once famously declared that there is no good reason to leave Manhattan now makes his movies in London (4), Paris (1), Spain (1) and Rome (1). 

“Well,” he told The Wall Street Journal, “the Italians call and say, ‘We’ll pay for it.’ ”

Woody Allen makes one movie a year. And, according to what he’s told The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and LA Weekly, he makes it in England or France or Italy because that, as they say, is where the money is.

Story continues after the jump.

“Match Point,” which came out in 2005, originally was set in Long Island and Palm Beach. Then the English offered to pay the costs if he shot it in London.

“From then on,” Allen said, “other countries call up and invite me to make movies, which is great, because they don’t invite me in the United States. What happens in Europe, in South America, in China, in Russia — all these countries call and say, ‘Would you make a movie here if we financed it?’ ”

You can see where I’m going with this, right?

A few weeks ago, Julie and Steve Bram hosted a dinner in their living room for 35 Hollywood movers and shakers and the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. Between the salad and the salmon, the marketing maven Gary Wexler led a very frank discussion on what it would take to get more American movie production in Jerusalem and, more generally, in Israel.

The discussion dove deep into the intricacies of tax breaks, production incentives, post-production facilities.

“This is very competitive,” one entertainment lawyer said. “You have to be very sophisticated about it.”

It’s competitive because movie production means revenue, jobs and, most important, image. A successful movie shot in your country shapes the way people around the world see that country. “Imagination rules the world,” Napoleon said — and he would know; he tried to rule with cannons and carbines.

But it’s true: There is something powerful and indelible about movies that transcends news and politics.

The New York Times Hollywood reporter Aljean Harmetz once told a story of the time Paul Newman was in Israel filming “Exodus.” Newman was being driven through an Arab town, the site of anti-Israel protests. A barrage of stones hit his car, and angry villagers soon surrounded it. Newman’s minders told the driver to race away, but the actor ordered him to stop. Newman got out of the car. And instantly, the angry mob clamored for photos and autographs of Hollywood’s leading star.

That kind of power is what prompted Israeli President Shimon Peres to meet, on his last visit to Los Angeles, with film industry titans to encourage them to make movies in Israel. 

“The American dream was created here in Hollywood,” Peres told a group that included Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Haim Saban. “I don’t know what influenced the world more — the American Constitution or the American dream.”

Of course, Israel has a vibrant and important film and TV industry of its own. That’s a boost to the country’s overall standing in the world, but very often those award-winning movies depict the darker sides of life there. 

Once, when I mentioned to an Israeli tourism official how proud his country must be of all its Academy Award-nominated films, he groused, “Better no one outside Israel sees them.”

That brings me back to Woody Allen. In Spain, an entire tourist track has developed to trail the footsteps of his movie “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” Allen has resurrected Gaudi. “Midnight in Paris” is now the title of an Air France tourist brochure. I mean, this is a man who was able to romanticize New York in the ’70s.

And all it would take to get him to immortalize Israel is a paltry $18 mil.

That’s what an Allen movie costs. A work of art — did I neglect to mention he is the Chaplin of our time, the greatest living filmmaker in the world? — that will enable Israel to enter the world’s imagination in a way a billion dollars of hasbara couldn’t possibly buy.

All Allen asks for is funding, and complete control over his project. 

As far as I know, Allen himself has never been to Israel. For a man who has done much to define the image of “Jew” in our time, this needs repair. I can’t imagine what will result when Woody Allen meets Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, but then again — that’s why I want to pay to find out.

So, The Jewish Journal has launched a Jewcer page to solicit funding for “The Woody Allen Israel Project.” Everybody who cares about great movies, and about Israel, must give a few dollars. “If only God would give me some clear sign!” Woody once quipped. “Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank.”

Go to jewishjournal.com/woodyallen. Let’s give Woody Allen a sign.

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