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(photo credit: Amit Berlovitz)
Israel has had many success stories in various industries, but few have been as dramatic as that of the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary on Wednesday at the Jerusalem Cinematheque. This celebration, which is free and open to the public, kicks off a month of events with a day of conferences, receptions, and workshops. Next week, renowned director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, Buena Vista Social Club), will visit and take part in the celebrations. Wenders, a long-time supporter of Sam Spiegel, will present his latest feature film, Palermo Shooting, in public screenings at the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv Cinematheques, as well as give several master classes for filmmaking students.
There is a great deal to celebrate about the Sam Spiegel School, which has been a key element in the recent renaissance in Israeli cinema. It was named for the late American producer, Sam Spiegel, whose family foundation has been a principal contributor. Under the eye of its director and founder, Renen Schorr, films by its students have won over 240 prizes at international festivals, including the most prestigious ones, such as Cannes. Sam Spiegel has won the Best Film School Award at 15 international festivals and the work of its students has been the subject of retrospectives at 120 festivals in 45 countries. Among its approximately 300 graduates are some of the leading luminaries of the Israeli film industry, including Nir Bergman, who directed the acclaimed Broken Wings and was one of the creators of the innovative television series, In Treatment, which was adapted for American television by HBO, Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, who made James' Journey to Jerusalem, and David Ofek, acclaimed director of documentaries including The Tale of Nicolai and The Law of Return.
These three filmmakers will participate in Wednesday's events, along with such prominent Israeli filmmakers as directors Joseph Cedar (Beaufort), Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir), Tawfik Abu Wael (Thirst), and Judd Ne'eman (Streets of Yesterday). Actors including Moshe Ivgy and Yael Abecassis, producer Marek Rozenbaum and Jerusalem Cinematheque director Ilan de Vries will also be among the dozens of participants in the day's workshops and seminars, which will culminate in a panel discussion on the topic of "A Vision for Israeli Cinema."
SCHORR, A DIRECTOR whose best known film is Late Summer Blues (1987) and who just made his first film in 20 years, The Loners, which won prizes at the Jerusalem Film Festival and the Ophir Awards, is looking forward to this conference. When asked what makes Sam Spiegel unique, he cites the school's three tracks, for directors, screenwriters and producers.
"In most schools, there aren't specialties," he says. "Most either only teach directors or attempt to teach everything to everyone.
"Europeans come here to learn how it works," says Schorr.
Giving a preview of what he will have to say at the discussion on the future of Israeli film, Schorr says the idea behind this meeting was "not to rest on the laurels of the last 10 years of successes for Israeli films, but to look at where Israeli film will be in another 10 years.
"It will be a public brainstorming," he says, adding that, in spite of recent accomplishments, "We can't be complacent. We have to keep inventing ourselves."
His recipe for how to do that?
Citing the enormous success of Israeli documentaries (the Jerusalem Film Festival received nearly 200 documentaries for 14 spots in the Wolgin Documentary competition), he suggests Israeli filmmakers "go to documentaries, take those stories and make them into feature films. There's such variety and sophistication in those subjects and they would make the basis for great dramatic films as well."
His next piece of advice is that the long-term health of the film industry depends on bringing filmmaking to parts of the country outside Tel Aviv, where the industry is currently concentrated. Recently, a fund was established to help filmmakers working in the Jerusalem area, and he suggests such funds be established throughout the country, as well as film schools and cinematheques.
Having recently returned to Sam Spiegel after a one-year sabbatical he spent making The Loners, Schorr says he feels "closer than ever to the students. I want them to be more involved in the decision-making processes at the school, more than ever. The students got together and helped plan everything about this celebration. Students need to feel that they're not alone in the dark."
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