Israel Film Festival Thrives in LA, Postponed in NY
by Heather Kellogg
After a successful run in Los Angeles in November, the 14th Annual Israel
Film Festival hit a number of snags before its anticipated arrival in New
York City. Originally slated for December, the festival organizers moved
the festival to mid-January (which would have conspicuously coincided
with Lincoln Center’s annual Jewish Film Festival) and now is tentatively
scheduled for late February/March. And even then, the IsraFest Foundation,
who oversees the festival, has yet to confirm a theater location or even a
partial line-up of films.
When the New York theater usually slated to play the films was unavailable
this year, IsraFest found themselves searching for a new venue. During the
Los Angeles festival, the printed programs stated the New York films
would screen at the Cantor Film Center. IsraFest, however, deemed it necessary
to cancel the proposed run because, according to a spokesperson
from the Foundation, they “needed extra time to prepare.” In addition, the
theater was never officially confirmed or booked. Although Executive
Director Meir Fenigstein spent nearly three weeks in New York in
December, a theater location has still not been found.
In November, Fenigstein stated that the same films — with only a few minor
exceptions — would play in New York, but now IsraFest proposes
that New York will be a much smaller festival with few, if any, of the
same films. At time of press, Fenigstein was in Israel trying to secure
films for the festival.
Despite the problems with the New York festival, the 14th Israel Film
Festival in Los Angeles was a huge success with a 10% increase in general
attendance and l2,000 tickets sold during its two-week run. Celebrating 50
years of Israeli Cinema, the festival presented a total of 62 of Israel’s
best new feature films, documentaries, TV movies, and miniseries, as well
as a student film program sponsored by AT&T and Amblin Entertainment.
Nearly all screenings held at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theatre in Beverly
Hills, including matinees, were sold out in advance. Over 800 people
attended the Gala Premiere for Yossi Somer’s mystical love story “The
Dybbuk of the Holy Apple Field”, Israel’s biggest production to date.
Guests at the event included Arthur Hiller, Bob Rehme, and John Savage.
Additional screenings and the closing night gala, held at the Writer’s
Guild Theater, were also well attended.
Like many past years, the Israel Film Festival received strong support from
many in the Hollywood community. The festival welcomed Steven Spielberg
and David Matalon as its new co-chairs, joining David Geffen, Arthur Hiller,
Sumner Redstone, Joe Roth, Michael Ovitz, Sherry Lansing, Terry Semel, Ted
Turner, Jack Valenti, and the Honorary Festival Chairman Arnon Milchan,
industry professionals attached to the festival for a number of years.
Although the festival received a record amount of financial support,
according to Meir Fenigstein, the future of the Israel Film Festival, and
Israeli cinema in general, is uncertain. On the eve of the 50th anniversary
of Israel Cinema in November, at the Israeli version of the Oscars, the
Israel Trade Ministry announced that it will no longer fund Israeli films.
For the past half-century, the Cultural Ministry and Trade Ministry have
jointly supported Israeli films. Filmmakers rarely have to look to
independent contributors to get their pieces produced, and instead apply to
the government. Starting in 1999, however, the Cultural Ministry begins the
arduous task of funding films alone. Fenigstein theorized that because of
the unstable political climate in Israel, “films are kind of out of the
game for the time being,” and may not survive to the millennium.
[The Israel Film Festival is now tentatively scheduled February 25 to March 12.
For more information, call the IsraFest Foundation, 213.966.4166 or send email
[Heather Kellogg, who recently received her master’s in women’s history, is
a researcher and writer living in Los Angeles. She also works for the
Sundance Film Festival.]