Knesset marks decade since passage of Cinema Law

Law effectively tripled the funding the government gave to the country’s film industry.

November 16, 2011 06:48
2 minute read.
Director Avi Nesher with Eli Yatzpan on the set of

avi nesher 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, along with other MKs and film-world luminaries, marked 10 years since the passage of the Cinema Law with a special ceremony at the Knesset on Tuesday.

When it passed in 2001, the law effectively tripled the funding the government gave to the country’s film industry, which by that time had been in the doldrums for over 20 years.

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Even the most enthusiastic proponents of the legislation did not foresee how effective it would be. In the past decade, Israeli movies have received hundreds of prizes at international film festivals, including a Golden Globe and three Oscar nominations. They now draw millions of paying viewers each year domestically and abroad.

“When I initiated the law, I said it would take a decade to see results – but it took a year,” said former MK and current Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav.

Along with Rivlin and former MKs Eli Zohar and Dedi Zucker, Yahav was addressing a group that included actors Dvir Benedek and Gila Almagor, as well as Jerusalem Cinematheque founder Lia van Leer.

Avi Nesher, one of the busiest and most sought-after directors in Israel, was the only filmmaker to speak, and he injected a note of historical perspective. Nesher, who started his career with two extremely successful films – The Troupe and Dizengoff 99 – in the late 1970s, went on to Hollywood where he had a successful career directing genre films. However he chose to come back to Israel at about the time the Cinema Law was passed, and he has made three acclaimed Israeli movies since then, Turn Left at the End of the World, The Secrets, and last year’s The Matchmaker.

“Movie-going is a collective experience,” Nesher said. “Collective experience creates a collective identity and a collective memory. The Cinema Law didn’t create that in Israel. But you [the Knesset] said, ‘This is culture.’ And culture costs money. You devoted an annual budget to it.”

Reading from a list of the top directors in the local film industry today, he called them “the New Wave” of Israeli filmmakers. He then referred to the tent protests of last summer and acknowledged that there were many pressing budgetary demands. But he concluded by saying: “Cinema is a critical part of who we are. When I think of what will keep my children in this country... the crucial factor will be their connection to their [Israeli] identity and culture.”

In a brief interview after the event, Nesher said he was currently working on an international film called In a Strange Land, about Jews held during World War II in a British prison camp on the island of Mauritius. It’s based on the novel Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah, and “may or may not get made.”

The event concluded with a montage of clips from the top Israeli films of the past decade.

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