Although I’ve been writing about movies for the last 15 years, recently I’ve noticed – as have so many viewers – that often what’s on television is more exciting than most big-screen offerings. It started in the late 1990s with HBO productions such as The Sopranos and Sex and the City, and throughout the past decade there have been dozens of quality TV productions – series and miniseries – that are truly worth watching. At the same time, thoughtful filmmaking has become a rarity as Hollywood churns out big-budget comic books or formula romantic comedies. I can’t tell you how often in recent years I’ve wished I could stay home and watch Weeds, Big Love, 30 Rock or Mad Men rather than going out to see what so often turned out to be a mediocre film.
As TV has increased in quality, the distinction between movies and TV has become blurred, with stars such as Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet appearing in the TV series Mildred Pierce, and directors such as Martin Scorsese creating the period gangster series Boardwalk Empire. Director Agnieszka Holland, the Polish director who was nominated for an Oscar last year for the Holocaust drama In Darkness, told me when she was at the Haifa Film Festival a few years ago that she felt that series such as Weeds and The Wire created the kind of excitement that was generated by serialized novels, such as the works of Charles Dickens, in the 19th century. She went on to direct many episodes of some acclaimed American series, including The Wire, Treme and The Killing.
Another recent trend is that Hollywood starting buying up and adapting Israeli dramatic and comedy series. The first was In Treatment (Be’tipul) which became an Emmy-winning HBO drama.
The next prominent show in this trend was Homeland (Hatufim), which won Emmys for Best Drama and Best Actor and Actress (Damien Lewis and Claire Danes) last year (all the episodes are currently available on YES VOD).
Comedy doesn’t seem to translate as well. The Israeli series Ramzor, about a group of guys at different points in their life, was made into Traffic Light, a US series that lasted just one season.
The distinction between television and movies had never been as pronounced here as it was in the US. Both industries are so small, that the majority of actors and many directors and screenwriters go back and forth between the small and big screens.
News documentaries have always been popular, but now the television and cable networks finance and broadcast more elaborate and varied documentaries than ever before.
And while Dror Moreh’s The Gatekeepers is being shown all over the US and winning honors from groups such as the National Society of Film Critics – which just named it the best documentary of the year – it will be shown on Channel One later this year as a five-part series. In a recent interview, Moreh said he made it with Israeli audiences in mind and that while he was happy that it was being screened throughout the country, he knew it would reach a larger audience on television. He also wants to use some parts of the interviews he left out when he was making the feature film, which runs approximately two hours. Until he finishes this series, he is not planning to start working on any new films.
One place where Israeli viewers have come to expect quality documentaries is on the True Story (Sipur Amiti) series on Channel One at 9 p.m. on Sunday nights.
Coming up on January 13, the series presents “The World According to Lance,” a look at controversial cycling star Lance Armstrong, who is currently in the middle of the biggest doping scandal in the history of the sport.
On January 20, there is another program that will likely be of great interest, a look at the true story that inspired Quentin Tarantino’s film Inglorious Basterds. That movie told the story of a band of angry American- Jewish soldiers in World War II who devoted themselves to hunting down and punishing Nazis. It struck many reviewers as exaggerated, but according to Inglorious Basterds: The True Story, it’s more accurate than you might think.