Reel deal in Jerusalem

Jerusalem may not yet be the screen capital of Israel, but it is giving Tel Aviv a run for its money.

January 28, 2017 21:07
3 minute read.

A general view shows Jerusalem's old city from an Israeli Air Force plane during an aerial show as part of celebrations for Israel's Independence Day to mark the 66th anniversary of the creation of the state, May 6, 2014. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Last year was a great year for Israeli movies, with over two million tickets sold in Israel for locally made films, and it was an especially strong year for movies filmed in Jerusalem, with an unprecedented 700,000 admissions for movies produced in the capital, according to statistics released by the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund of the Jerusalem Development Authority.

Israeli audiences once shunned films made in Israeli, preferring Hollywood flicks, but that has changed. In 2014, an Israeli movie, Talya Lavie’s Zero Motivation, was the top-grossing film of the year, taking in more than the most popular US films.

This year, in addition to the positive news overall about the popularity of Israeli films with local audiences, Jerusalem movies have taken center stage, an important change in the industry, which used to be dominated by films made in the Tel Aviv area. For the first time, 30% of all tickets sold were for Jerusalem movies.

Yoram Honig, the founder and director of the Jerusalem Film Fund, which was established in 2008 to give funding and support to filmmakers working in the Holy City, feels that the fund’s work is paying off in a big way. Honig said: “The varied landscapes of Jerusalem have been the focus of more screen time than ever recently, both in movies and television shows. Jerusalem is interesting, mysterious, diverse and very versatile, and it has been the setting for dramatic movies, comedies and fantasy stories for children...

From 1948 to 2008, there were over 700 movies made in Israel, and only about 30 were filmed in Jerusalem... But since we started up, we’ve funded over 60 films and television series set in Jerusalem.”

Three movies in particular sold the bulk of the tickets, and these three films are as varied as the city itself.

Emil Ben-Shimon’s The Women’s Balcony sold more than 343,000 tickets since its release in the fall, according to the film fund. This gentle comedy tells the story of a traditional, religious Mizrahi neighborhood in Jerusalem that faces a crisis after a charismatic young rabbi convinces the men there that there no longer needs to be a place for women in their synagogue. It’s a comedy with deep implications about the religious-secular tensions in the city, as well as about the emerging face of feminism in communities where women tended to allow men to take a dominant role in public life. It has been shown abroad, including at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016, and will be released in the US and Europe.

For the second time in a row, Avi Nesher decided to make a movie in Jerusalem, Past Life, which was released in December.

In less than two months, it has sold a staggering 150,000 tickets throughout the country. Past Life, which was also shown at Toronto and more recently at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, is a fact-based drama, set in the Seventies, about two sisters from a secular, well-educated family who delve into their father’s wartime secrets. Nesher shot the scenes of the gloomy family home on Ahad Ha’Am Street. Among its other distinctions, it is certainly the first movie to show nude models posing for a porn magazine on the Mount of Olives. It will be released in the US in the spring. Nesher’s 2013 film, The Wonders, was filmed largely in the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Jonathan Geva’s Abulele, a fantasy for children about a boy who befriends a mysterious, magical creature, was also filmed in Jerusalem and sold more than 140,000 tickets.

And more Jerusalem movies are coming.

Last week, Avishai Sivan’s Tikkun, about a Jerusalem yeshiva student facing a crisis, was released, and this week, Eitan Anner’s A Quiet Heart, about a Tel Aviv pianist played by Ania Bukstein who moves to Jerusalem, will hit the screens.

In the coming weeks, more movies set in Jerusalem and supported by the fund will be coming out, including Eran Kolirin’s Beyond the Mountains and Hills, about a troubled family. In March, Joseph Cedar’s latest film, Norman, will be coming out, here and abroad. The movie, which stars Richard Gere as a New York fixer who ingratiates himself with an Israeli politician (Lior Ashkenazi), was filmed mainly in the US, but there are some Jerusalem scenes.

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