Israeli films reflect our unique culture, values and achievements.Lights, camera, action! Perhaps the next Israeli film should be a documentary on the amazing rebirth of quality local cinema.
The data published at the end of last year were surprising and encouraging. Out of 10 million cinema tickets sold in Israel, 1.3 million were for Israeli movies. Contrast this with 1991, when only 36,000 tickets to Israeli movies were sold here.
The 18 local films that reached our screens last year earned NIS 42 million ($10m). A hundred international film festivals, including the most important ones, showed Israeli movies. And the film industry was able to lure in an investment of $5 million from abroad last year alone.
The question is why and how this miracle occurred. Moreover, are we facing an artistic renaissance that may affect other forms of cultural expression as well?
Cinema is the world’s leading cultural medium and, as such, it is a bellwether for other kinds of art, even those that cater to a more limited audience.
The key to change is here. How was it achieved?
The appearance of commercial TV in Israel was the most significant turning point. It started with Channel 2, followed by cable, satellite and finally Channel 10. The requirements for the tender process started a momentum of creation and the production of soap operas and other dramas.
These got the public used to the quality, content and language of TV films and, later on, full-length feature films.
For many years we deliberated about which Hebrew should be spoken in movies. In the past, language was formal, mannered and distant. Nowadays the Hebrew is spoken, common and no less correct.
The public responded gladly to these film dramas. Hundreds of television hours – some of them of very low quality – created the infrastructure of the bigger productions that would later reach the big screen.
Then came the Cinema Bill, which stated that a certain percentage of the royalties paid by commercial TV to the state would be transferred to film productions. This bill infused the industry with tens of millions of shekels.
Good people like attorney Eli Zohar, Ya’acov Peri, and many others who volunteered for this cause helped create a real industry offering employment to thousands.
Moreover, it provided an opportunity for Israel to present itself to its citizens as well as to the entire world as a normal country: sensitive, responsive, human.
There’s more to us than the banal story of the Israeli-Arab conflict, or the Israeli-Palestinian one.
The Israeli film deals with people. It is of universal appeal. The fact that we can produce it here during the struggle of the past four years is one of the most positive messages we can convey.
Diplomacy can be achieved with a stick or a carrot. We use the stick often, but we can use the carrot as well. Our carrot is our unique culture, our values and our achievements. We’ve hidden these, to a large extent, until now.
This is our great opportunity to show a different face. Ladies and gentleman, the new Israeli film.
(Reprinted with permission from The Jerusalem Post)