'Boycott the boycotts'

You Wim some, you lose s

wim wenders 248.88 (photo credit: IBA)
wim wenders 248.88
(photo credit: IBA)
'I'll boycott boycotts," said Wim Wenders at a press conference at the Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem Monday. The iconoclastic master director, who is visiting Israel as part of the celebration of the school's 20th anniversary, had just been asked about his reaction to calls from fellow filmmakers for a boycott of Israeli movies. Wenders, who has made such modern classics as Wings of Desire (1988), Paris, Texas (1984) and The American Friend (1977), to name just a few, tends to go his own way. "I've seen a lot of Israeli movies I've liked over the last few years," he said. "I can't think of a reason to boycott them." And that was that, as far as the director was concerned; but when reporters pressed him for his thoughts on cultural boycotts, he said, "Cultural boycotts - in general they don't work. Boycotts often achieve the opposite. Take Cuba - boycotting Cuba really secured Castro's rule for the next 20 years." Cuba is a country Wenders knows a bit about, since he directed the enormously successful documentary Buena Vista Social Club 10 years ago, about a group of nearly forgotten, aging musicians in Castro's Cuba, who were brought together for a triumphant concert tour. No one could have foreseen either the success of these concerts or the appeal of the film, but Wenders just went ahead and did it - ignoring the boycott. When it comes to promoting cultural freedom, this wasn't the only time Wenders did more than talk a good game. When introducing the German-born filmmaker, Sam Spiegel's founder and director, Renen Schorr, spoke of how Wenders was instrumental in seeing that Israeli films were permitted to vie for awards from the European Film Academy. Since they became eligible in 2004, Israeli films have garnered multiple nominations from the European Film Academy and won several prizes, notably Sasson Gabai's Best Actor prize for The Band's Visit. Asked how he felt about Israel, Wenders said, "It's hard even to talk about Israel as if it's one thing. It has different facets. There's a lot going on here I don't agree with, especially in politics... But journalists and filmmakers I've met here, friends I've made, have given me a feeling for the place. It's an impossible place; an impossible political situation. I wish the gridlock it's in could be helped. I have too many friends here not to be concerned. It's one of the most complex places in the world, especially this city." WENDERS CLEARLY has an especially intense feeling toward Israeli films and filmmakers. "I heard a rumor Israeli cinema was said to be mediocre, but my impression is very different," he said. "I've seen some really remarkable films coming out of Israel... I'm friends with Ari Folman [director of Waltz with Bashir] and there are some extremely creative films being made here. It's good to have to fight difficulties. Whenever it gets easy, creative juices don't flow as much." Wenders cited Waltz with Bashir as one of the most impressive films he had seen in recent years. He also noted that the Israeli film Ajami was nominated for a European Film Academy Award for Discovery of the Year and called it "a fantastic first film." Discussing the state of the movie industry in general, Wenders criticized the product coming out of Hollywood, but noted that he'd seen "a lot of great movies" from young filmmakers working on digital video for very little money. "The problem is getting past the narrow gate of distribution," he said, speculating that his internationally acclaimed Wings of Desire would have been "just a minor success" had it been released today. In addition to Monday's press conference, Wenders is presenting his latest film, Palermo Shooting, at a screening at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque tonight. The Jerusalem and Tel Aviv Cinematheques are also featuring a retrospective of his work throughout the month. Asked about a line in his latest film, Palermo Shooting, in which a character says you should take the world seriously, but shouldn't take yourself too seriously, Wenders said, "That's good advice. Directors often have very inflated egos - it's a dangerous job, but somebody has to do it." That said, he headed off to another auditorium, for one in a series of meetings with Israeli film students.