Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Jerusalem: Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive

Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Jerusalem: Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive

Article excerpt

Steven Spîelberg Jewish Film Archive honors Israeli Film Pioneers

A very special tribute was paid to the pioneers of the Israeli cinema in a two-part program presented in November and December 1993 at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, by the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive. The program, devoted to film in the first five years of the state (1948-1953), not only gave audiences a chance to view rare footage from the Spielberg Archive made during this little-known period, but also assembled in person a considerable group of people active in the local film industry at the time. The two evenings were included in the Archive's calendar of events to celebrate the centenary of the cinema.

The concept for the program, a follow-up to the very successful lecture/screening scries held by the Archive at the Museum in late 1992, was initially a much more modest one. The original plan had been to hold a brief retrospective of films produced by the late Norman Lourie, a former South African whose company made about a dozen motion pictures in the years immediately preceding and following the establishment of the State of Israel. This idea was modified after a chance encounter with Rolf Kneller, who bad been Lourie's cinematographer. Conversations with Kneller revealed that the early Israeli film world, in spite of the fact that it produced scarcely any narrative features, had been much richer and more complex than any existing published sources had indicated.

Baruch Dienar, the screen writer/producer/director renowned for his 1961 feature They Were Ten, had also been frequenting the Spielberg Archive at that time as part of an effort to track down his early output. Both he and Kneller, with whom he had worked on many occasions, agreed to become involved in the embryonic project, scheduled to consist of a session of screenings followed by a discussion with the filmmakers themselves.

The screening session was linked to the Israel Museum's exhibition «To Live in Jerusalem», and was devoted to Jerusalem as seen in Israeli films of the period. Two complete films and excerpts from six more, both fiction and documentary, were screened. The films were presented in roughly chronological order and showed a variety of the city's many faces, from active battle zone to peaceful tourist attraction. Rolf Kneller, much to his embarrassment, was more than amply represented in the program; he filmed five of the eight items, and in one of the remaining three, a color travelogue from 1953, he could be glimpsed with his children visitingjerusalem's Biblical Zoo.

Largely through Baruch Dienar, who had remained in touch with non-professional actors from his early films as well as with his industry colleagues, many additional contacts were made. It soon became clear that the original idea of a small panel to recall and discuss the period would not suffice to accommodate all the veterans willing to share their reminiscences. Word of mouth and serendipity caused the list to swell still further. Director Dan Wolman telephoned to say that an actor in a film he was about to start shooting was searching for a film in which he had appeared in 1951, but had never seen? The actor, Yitzchak Shillo, had starred in that film, Out of Evil, under the name Yitzchak Schulman, before going on to lead roles in Israeli features and a Hollywood career as Michael Shillo. When he visited the Spielberg Archive for the preliminary interview to which most of the other participants submitted, Shillo watched Out of Evil, his first film, for the very first time. …

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