Miri Regev’s ill-timed tirade

Regev has never pretended to be especially interested in the arts. She has boasted that she has never read Chekhov, apparently to make a point about how European culture should not dominate the arts.

September 25, 2016 21:39
2 minute read.
Minister Miri Regev

Minister Miri Regev. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev ignored the diverse group of winners who had paraded across the stage at the Ophir Awards Ceremony at the Performing Arts Center in Ashdod on September 22 and launched into a bitter tirade – met by boos and walkouts – against the film industry, saying she would establish a committee to investigate funding in the movie industry, complaining about how funds are allocated and saying, “Israeli film will no longer be an exclusive club.”

About 20 years ago, there may have been some truth to the “exclusive club” complaint.

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But now, as Sand Storm, a movie about Beduin women, the debut feature by a female director Elite Zexer, took the top award, Regev’s bile could not have been more ill-timed.

Never have the winners of the Ophir Awards presented a more accurate representation of Israel’s population. Two Israeli Arabs – actress Ruba Blal Asfor of Sand Storm and musician Tamer Nafar from Udi Aloni’s Junction 48 – won prizes. Moris Cohen got the Best Actor award for his performance as a club bouncer drawn into a life of crime in Meni Yaesh’s Avinu, a movie about just the kind of working-class Mizrahi that Regev seemed to be saying is excluded from the film industry.

Rama Burshtein, an ultra-Orthodox woman, won the Best Screenplay Award for Through the Wall, a comedy about marriage in the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world.

The two other acting award winners, Noa Kooler for Through the Wall and Tomer Kapon for Asaph Polonsky’s One Week and a Day, were first-time Ophir Award nominees, hardly part of the filmmaking establishment.

But Regev has never pretended to be especially interested in the arts. She has boasted that she has never read Chekhov, apparently to make a point about how European culture should not dominate the arts, and could not name a single film by Quentin Tarantino, the guest of honor at the Jerusalem Film Festival this summer, after she met him at the opening.

On Thursday night, she chose to warn the movie industry that she controls the arts budget, and that she can and will cut funding to Israeli movies if she chooses to.

If she does that, the Israeli film industry will suffer. In 2001, after the Israeli movie industry had languished for two decades, the government passed the Cinema Law, which dramatically increased government funding for Israeli movies. Fifteen years later, this law has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of those who proposed it.

Israeli movies have been nominated for seven Oscars and won one (for the documentary short Strangers No More, in 2011), won two Golden Globes and received dozens of prizes at the most important film festivals around the world. Perhaps just as important, Israeli audiences have flocked to movies that they find relevant to their lives. In 2014, Talya Lavie’s Zero Motivation, about women soldiers, was the top-grossing movie in Israel, earning even more than American superhero flicks.

The government boasts about the film industry and its achievements in speeches and on its website. But you can’t have it both ways. Regev can cut funds and choose to fund only those movies she finds ideologically sound, but a person who boasts of and demonstrates her ignorance of one of Israel’s most thriving arts will not be likely to fund the kinds of movies that will bring Israel international acclaim.

Only real moviemakers can do that.

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