Over the past 15 years, Israeli cinema has blossomed into a major force, becoming one of the country’s most impactful exports.
What was once a struggling industry with low production values and local, sub-par storytelling has turned into a key player in film festivals around the world.
Even in a tumultuous political climate, Israeli cinema has managed to overcome boycotts and appear annually in almost every major festival.
Some films ultimately earned international recognition, including more Oscar nominations in the last 11 years (seven since 2007) than in the entire 70 years of Israel’s history. The industry has now become a force and expanded into other formats as well. This past year, the 2007 Israeli film The Band’s Visit was adapted into the 2018 Tony Award Winning musical.
Unfortunately, there are signals that this successful run may be coming to an end.
One major element pushing this change might be the Israeli Minister of Culture Miri Regev’s recently proposed law requiring the loyalty of all artists receiving grants of Israeli government funds.
Almost all Israeli films are supported by these film funds. This law passed the first call but has hit a stumbling block due in part to Netanyahu’s recently limited coalition.
Nevertheless, even before this law existed, Regev has been outspoken on curtailing funding for films and programs that do not follow her standard of patriotism. Most recently, she brought changes to the Israeli Film Law, giving her office more power in the selection process of which films will receive government funds.
Regev has been outspoken against films that do not compliment her political tone, often without actually seeing the film. Most memorable was her well-covered critique of the Ophir Award-winning film Foxtrot, which she called a “disgrace” and a film “that can be used as [a weapon] of propaganda in the hands of our enemies.”
Regev’s crusade has encouraged self-censorship by Israeli filmmakers that has impacted the kind of films being made in Israel.
Looking at recent major films being made in Israel, there is a clear rise in movies relating to the Orthodox community and a decline in films related to Arab populations.
Is this a trend or a key change? The Other Israel Film Festival presented by The Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan this November hosted a panel on some of the challenges of the Israeli film industry, specifically the impact of the new laws and government restrictions on minorities.
Participants agreed, for the sake of Israel’s future, that politicians should steer clear of artistic and cultural arenas while providing space for freedom of expression.
Partially in response to the changes in the Film Law, Katriel (Katri) Schory, executive director of the Israel Film Fund, announced plans to retire from his position after 20 years at the helm of this leading financier of Israeli cinema.
Katri is one of the voices responsible for the growth, expansion and success of the Israeli film industry. The fund he ran, along with the relationships he formed, paved the way for the creation of hundreds of Israeli films as well as increased international reach.
His impact is immeasurable and his departure will undoubtedly bring major change to Israeli cinema. The announcement of his retirement included a pointed mention of growing political powers impacting and limiting the work of filmmakers, lambasting the “series of senseless and damaging regulations [that] try to impose measures with the aim to curb the creative freedom and independent thinking.”
Clearly, we’re at a turning point for Israeli cinema. Despite the growth of the Israeli film industry, some international festivals are beginning to overlook Israeli films. Certain critics have hinted that Israeli film might be past its breaking point. Many of the topics have grown so insular that they are lacking international appeal.
Both diversity and freedom of speech matter greatly to the American Jewish community. We have a major stake in the democratic image of Israeli arts. It’s up to the American Jewish community to speak up, sign petitions opposing laws that will limit artistic freedom and support films that are marginalized due to the new laws and the political environment.
The Jewish film market has seen growth in part due to the influx of Israeli films and some festivals are concerned about the impending change in the themes of the material. The Jewish Film Presenters Network is a network of over 150 festivals throughout the world that present Jewish and Israeli films. As presenters of these important cultural exports, we strive to share a diverse and democratic Israel with the world.