'Everyone's Looking': Israel Cinema at MIFF: In the Last Few Years, Israel's Cinema Has Been Reinvigorated Both within Israel and in the International Arena, Winning Prizes at Major International Film Festivals Such as Cannes, Sundance, Berlin and Tribeca

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THIS YEAR the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) selected thirteen recent Israeli films to screen as the 'Stars of David' component of the 2007 program.

The Israeli box office: a new phenomenon

AMONGST the films were Aviva, My Love (Shemi Zarhin, 2006) and Beaufort (Joseph Cedar, 2007), two of the highest grossing films at the Israeli box office in the last twelve months. Aviva, My Love topped the box office on its release: the first local film to do so in many years. In 2006, 900,000 Israelis went to see local films, more than double the 2005 numbers.

There has been a dramatic shift in Israel's box office takings from Israeli made cinema over the last seven years. In 1999, Israeli cinema accounted for only 0.3 per cent share of the country's domestic box office takings. (1) That year, producer Katriel Schory was appointed the executive director of the Israeli Film Fund, an institution which had existed for close to thirty years. In the years following, he guided Israeli film through an impressive renewal process. By 2006 the box office share had jumped to fourteen per cent, with the Israeli Film Fund supporting the financing of some fourteen Israeli films annually.


Israel's film infrastructure is currently made up of approximately 100 independent production companies, ten production studios, including two major film studios and twenty-five post-production facilities. In an essay on contemporary Israeli cinema, Joshua Simon looks at possible reasons for the recent success of the Israeli film industry:

In a country with six million citizens, there are thirteen film schools. In comparison, Germany, with its eighty million people, rich cinematic past, grand tradition and achievements today in the field of short films, student films and commercial cinema, has only six film schools and they are talking there about the market being saturated and that film school graduates cannot find work in the field. (2)


In Israel there are two state funding bodies: the Israeli Film Fund and the much smaller Yehoshua Rabinowitz Foundation. The latter has funded films like Or (Keren Yedaya, 2004), winner of the Camera d'Or at Cannes, and My Father, My Lord (David Volach, 2006) which screened at MIFF after winning Best Narrative Feature Film at Tribeca this year.

My Father, My Lord: inside orthodoxy

Volach's My Father, My Lord is an understated and harrowing portrait of a small Ultra-Orthodox family immersed in their way of life. The film holds up a mirror to the religious community in Israel--a community private, secretive and enigmatic to those outside it.

The film opens with a man weeping behind a stack of prayer books. He puts on his hat, wipes his eyes, and we watch him enter the synagogue, past rows of seated men who also watch him enter the room. The camera is behind him as he walks towards the raised area in the front of the synagogue and we understand he is a prominent figure within this community. He is the rabbi. He steps up onto the platform and faces the camera. He looks to the empty seat on his right and far more quickly than on his entrance, the camera pulls back and pans out of the room. A door is shut and so the audience is shut out of the world that they only just glimpsed inside.


The next scene is of the rabbi's son, Menachem, in the bath--we are pulled back into their world, and into the intimate space of their home. This small film about a couple and their son signifies a much larger issue. In a way it introduces us to the self-criticism apparent in contemporary Israeli cinema and illustrated by and large in the 'Stars of David' program. A door is opened onto the world that is Israel, and all its complexities are laid bare; we are able to look in briefly before we are shut out again.

As part of the Talking Pictures program at MIFF, there was a panel discussion called 'Screens of David' chaired by John Safran. …


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