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Less than two months after the Camera d'Or triumph of Israeli filmmakers Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen at the Cannes Film Festival, an official delegation of Israeli entertainment industry professionals have been invited to Los Angeles to meet with top Hollywood executives, directors and screenwriters. Organized by the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, an alliance between the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Tel Aviv Municipality, this event will be the first of its kind for Israeli filmmakers. From July 12-22, the delegation will meet with members of Jerry Bruckheimer's production company (Pirates of the Caribbean, CSI) and executives from production companies and television networks such as Sony, Fox, CBS and Paramount.
The 12 delegates were carefully winnowed from among the 66 industry professionals who applied and represent the cream of Israel's entertainment industry. Veteran actor and director Oded Kotler, who was nominated for a Golden Globe and won an award for Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival in 1967 for his role in the Israeli film Three Days and a Child, will lead the delegation. Among the other participants are Zafrir Kochanovsky, who produced the award-winning Israeli drama television series A Touch Away, and Yaron Kaftori Ben Yosef, co-director of the Holocaust documentary Out of the Forest.
For Mickey Yerushalmy, chairman of culture for the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership and initiator of the trip to Los Angeles, the visit has enormous significance. He predicted it would have "a big impact for [the delegates] personally and also will have an impact on the relationship between Hollywood and Israel."
Mutual interests are key in this fledgling relationship: Israelis will introduce the increasingly successful world of Israeli film to the American entertainment industry, while getting better acquainted with both the Hollywood and independent film industries.
Yehudit Manassen, coordinator of the Partnership's performing arts committee, explained, "During the 10 day trip, the delegates will have a chance to meet the people who cannot make it to Israel, but can clear two hours of their time for a meeting. This way the Israeli filmmakers will also be exposed to the things happening there in the high ranks, and the Americans will be exposed to our excellent filmmakers whose greatest obstacle is not a lack of talent or ability, but the fact that they are not familiar with the American system."
IN THE last eight years, the Partnership has initiated a series of film workshops. At first they took place in the Tel Aviv University film department and later in the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. Each year, experienced professionals come from Los Angeles to host the workshops, focusing on fields such as screenwriting, producing and directing. This trip to Los Angeles is an outgrowth of those workshops, elevated to a new level.
Indeed, Yerushalmy believes that the workshops are almost directly responsible for Israel's burgeoning international recognition in the entertainment industry. "During the last eight years we have opened the relationship between Israel and Los Angeles; we have enabled Israelis to get much more exposure for their work." The workshops imported the Hollywood techniques of filmmaking, which Yerushalmy claims had a significant impact. "Before the workshops, an Israeli's chances of meeting Hollywood executives were close to zero."
The Jerusalem Post also spoke with Oded Kotler, who observed that the Israeli love of theater surpasses that of many other countries. "Jews are people of the Book, and that love of books translates to a love of theater." Kotler has been instrumental in the development of theater in Israel, having worked both with Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv and as artistic director in the Haifa Municipal Theater.
Kotler went on to explain that he hopes to gain a wide range of feedback from Hollywood experts-not only in the aesthetic techniques of filmmaking, but in more pragmatic areas like marketing as well. Kotler clarified, "I hope to learn by brainstorming, by asking questions such as 'what do you do when you have a small country and the market is limited to seven million people, among them children and mothers?' In such a case, you have to select your subject and themes differently than in a big country, and there are limits to how much money you can put in."
For Yaron Kaftori Ben Yosef, the most exciting prospect is that of meeting the independent American filmmakers.
Hollywood itself, Ben Yosef feels, is focused on making money at the expense of art. He speaks from experience, having worked in Hollywood 10 years ago. According to Ben Yosef, a graduate of Tel Aviv University, Israeli films are different because in the Hollywood environment "sometimes you end up doing it all for the money." In contrast, he remarked, the Israeli film industry is "much more [focused on] telling the story and not about making the money."
Other delegates, like writer/producer Ruth Lev-Ari, are more optimistic about the Hollywood experience. Lev-Ari, who has worked mainly in television, cited the adaptation of the Israeli television show BaTipul into the HBO show In Therapy as proof that Israeli television has the potential to transcend Israel's borders. "There is a great curiosity about us abroad," elaborated Lev-Ari. "There is a great willingness to be involved in 'our story.'"
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