Israel Goes to Hollywood

By Ilana Teitelbaum

Published July 11, 2007, issue of July 13, 2007.
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In recent years, the steadily improving quality of Israeli film has been attracting attention overseas. The Israeli television series “In Treatment” has been adapted by HBO, and this past May, Israeli writers Etgar Keret and his wife, Shira Gefen, won the coveted Camera D’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Yet according to Mickey Yerushalmy, chairman of culture for the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, the chances of Israeli entertainment industry professionals coming in contact with Hollywood professionals has been next to nil.

With an eye toward breaking this trend, the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership — an alliance between the Municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — is sending a delegation of Israel’s most successful entertainment industry professionals to Hollywood this week for 10 days. There they will meet with some of Hollywood’s most prestigious directors, executives and screenwriters, including producers Marc Platt (“Legally Blonde,” “Wicked”), Zvi Howard Rosenman (“Father of the Bride,” “John from Cincinnati”) and Lynn Roth (“39 Pounds of Love”). They will also meet with such talent managers as Joan Hyler of Hyler Management, Danny Sussman of Brillstein-Grey Entertainment and Brian Swardstrom of Endeavor Talent Agency. (Platt is honorary chair, and Sussman and Hyler co-chairs, of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.)

Golden Globe Award-winning actor and director Oded Kotler will lead the delegation of 12, who were selected from 66 professional applicants. The delegates include Avner Bernheimer (who wrote “Yossi and Jagger”), Orit Sher (actress appearing in “Wisdom of the Bagel” and “Late Wedding”), Zafrir Kohanovsky (producer of the Holocaust documentary “A Touch Away”) and Ruth Lev Ari (whose company created and produced “Rutenberg” and “Prime Minister’s Schedule”).

An actor and director since the 1960s, Kotler hopes that sparking a connection with Hollywood will guide Israeli filmmaking to new heights. He pointed out that the Israeli love of theater is so profound that the ticket sales are higher than the sales of soccer tickets. His theory is that as People of the Book, Jews feel a particular connection to stories in any artistic medium. “I think that [theater] is part of the tradition of Israel,” Kotler told The Shmooze. “Jews who came from Europe and built Israel came from homes that had the tradition of reading books and going to the theater.”

Director Yaron Kaftori Ben Yosef, whose latest documentary, “A Working Mother,” focuses on the situation of foreign workers in Israel, believes that Israeli film has improved over the years because Israelis have started to allow the issues to emerge from stories rather than the other way around. He commented, “In the ’80s and ’90s, we had a decade or more of really bad filmmaking because the issue was the point…. The new generation wants to tell stories, not deal with topics or issues. Even though we deal with very important issues, we always make it about stories. ‘A Working Mother’ is a story about a mother and her children.”

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