English-speaking audiences should be particularly interested in films from Israel. Israel is as ethnically and nationally diverse as the United States. Its citizenry, in addition to those of European and Middle Eastern descent, also includes a significant number of Americans, Canadians, Australians, British, South Africans, and New Zealanders. In fact, English is Israel's second language, after Hebrew and before Arabic. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that many Israeli films have some English dialogue. A few films are all in English. Debates over issues of ethnic diversity and the desire to retain ethnic identity in a pluralistic society are major issues in Israeli society. As the seat of Judeo/Christian heritage, Israel's values are dominantly Western, though the tension between the Ashkenazi (Western) and Sephardim (Eastern) has always been palpable. That Israel is a Western democracy surrounded by theocratic, totalitarian, or monarchical states constantly creating political and military conflict makes for a wealth of dramatic stories, and Israelis are great storytellers no matter the language in which they are told.
From filmmaking's infancy the Holy Land was a place of fascination. In the late 1890s and early 1900s, foreign filmmakers were attracted to the exotic sights of such places as Jerusalem and Bethlehem. However, the fledgling country that was in 1948 to become Israel had little interest in this new medium of film, as it took all of its resources and energy to provide for life's basic needs--food, water, and security. Most of the films produced during this time were pro-Zionist documentaries. Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, saw the cinema merely as entertainment for the masses. His attitude prevailed among his successors, with its vestiges still evident today. Far from the centers of filmmaking, without its own film labs, technicians, or studios, Israel was in no position to begin to develop any sustainable form of filmmaking activity, much less a film industry. Again, after 1948, it was foreigners who came to Israel to make films, and again, most were documenta-