Rachel Neiman
July 29, 2008, Updated September 13, 2012

“Israeli documentary film has become very attractive the world over,” Orna Yarmot, founder of CoPro, the Documentary Marketing Foundation.Ten years ago, documentary film producer Orna Yarmot invited four European colleagues to Tel Aviv, to meet with Israeli filmmakers. At that time, Yarmot had no idea that the encounter would blossom into an annual event that promotes documentary film in Israel through co-production with non-Israeli TV networks. Nor did she expect to give rise to an enterprise which today is responsible for 35 percent of the total annual investment in Israeli documentary cinema.

“There’s no other event like this, whether in Israel or abroad,” says Yarmot, head of non-profit organization CoPro, the Documentary Marketing Foundation and its annual event, the Israeli Forum for International Documentary Co-Production, which last month celebrated a decade of activity.

“There are other television market events for buyers – La Rochelle, MIP at Cannes, Rendezvous in Saint Tropez – but there’s nothing exclusively for documentary and none that puts the emphasis on films which are still in production, where there is still opportunity for co-production, as opposed to completed projects,” she tells ISRAEL21c.

The opportunity to get in on the ground floor – or at least the mezzanine – has lead to successful co-productions with stations in the US, such as the Sundance Channel PBS and WGBH Boston. This year, CoPro presented documentary films to 40 foreign buyers, including representatives from Channel 4 in the UK, NHK in Japan, ARTE – Germany, TVP – Poland, RAI – Italy and others.

Tempting prospects

“Israeli documentary film has become very attractive the world over. It turns out that the chance to invest here is a tempting prospect for major world television stations,” says Yarmot.

Over 10 years, CoPro has raised NIS 23 million for 140 Israeli co-productions with foreign investors that were broadcast on 28 stations around the world, and Yarmot estimates that over 90 million people have seen these shows.

A few recent titles that garnered international acclaim include Ran Tal’s Children of the Sun, a powerful documentary collage about the early kibbutz collective living experiment, and Nadav Schirman’s The Champagne Spy, a fascinating account of Wolfgang Lotz, a Mossad agent who posed as an ex-Nazi German millionaire in Egypt.

CoPro’s stated goal is to use co-productions as a conduit for cultural discourse and dialogue between filmmakers and the international media, and by extension, the viewing public.

CoPro also works to bring the message of Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers and their depiction of the complexities of Israeli society. Upcoming projects presented this year, notes Yarmot, included “a film about Amoz Oz, and a film about a deaf Bedouin tribe in the Negev – stories that are dramatic even if they don’t have a direct connection with the drama we live with every day.”

The event, held at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, comprised five days of production-related activities; in addition to the market there were pitching forums, panel discussions, workshops and co-production talks. To make sure the Israelis put their best foot forward, CoPro has developed several tools, including pitching workshops and a unique Hebrew-language catalogue listing all funds, festivals and cultural exchanges between Israel and the rest of the world.

“We provide information about what the festivals are looking for, and which Israelis have already won,” explains Yarmot. “We also provide contacts. It’s for a niche market, not for profit and a very useful tool for the creative community.”

CoPro also produces a French/English catalogue of all films to be presented at the annual event, which is sent in advance to participants so they have time to review it.

A pool of talent

“There’s an amazing pool of talent here, especially considering that the visual skill in Israel hasn’t had centuries to develop as it has in Europe,” says Yarmot. “So it’s amazing that the cultural awakening in film, visual arts, dance, has developed to such a high level. Creators here are creating a new filmic language. And because of us, they don’t need to fly abroad to make their pitches. All they need is a bus ticket to Tel Aviv”.

Those who believe in Israeli talent include this year’s CoPro sponsors: the European Union, the Israel Film Council, the Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Foundation, the Goethe Institute, the Embassy of France, the Marc Rich Foundation, Israel’s Second Broadcast Authority, the Israel National Lottery Council for the Arts, Noga Communications, and Channel 8, the Israeli documentary channel.

During the year, CoPro sponsors additional events including DocCommunity, where Israeli creators give back to the community by holding screenings at cultural enclaves in the Israeli periphery. “We fund the subtitles and make efforts to reach the Arab, Russian and Ethiopian communities”, says Yarmot.

In 2005, CoPro received the Knesset Chairman’s Prize for its work in promoting Israeli film around the world. “By creating meetings between foreign producers and Israeli creators, we’ve increased the investment in Israeli film,” Yarmot notes proudly. “If a public entity like the Israeli Film Council brings in NIS 8.5 million a year, we bring in an additional NIS 3.5 million. We created a revolution in co-production. We were also the first to pitch new media – I assume that in a few years, everyone will be doing that. Because we’re on the fringe, we can innovate.”

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