The European connection

The recent renaissance of Israeli films owes a great deal to finance from Europe, notably Germany and France. This week’s Jerusalem Film Festival celebrated the partnership.

Claudia Droste-Deselaers 311 (photo credit: Nir Shaanani)
Claudia Droste-Deselaers 311
(photo credit: Nir Shaanani)
If you live in Israel and watch the news, it’s easy to get the feeling that whole world is against this country, as performers and artists from around the world join the movement to boycott Israel, while others discreetly keep their distance.
But anyone who has been enjoying the renaissance in Israeli films during the last decade and who bothers to read the credits will notice a quiet revolution has been taking place in the way these films are made. Increasingly, they are co-produced by European film funds, particularly those in Germany and France.
This week, at the Jerusalem Film Festival, which runs through July 17 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, two European film funds/broadcasters are paying tribute to Katriel Schory, the executive director of the Israel Film Fund, at a reception at JVP Media Quarter on July 12.
Claudia Droste-Deselaers, the CEO of Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen (Film Foundation North Rhine Westphalia), the largest state film fund in Europe, and representatives from the German-French broadcaster, ARTE, will honor Schory’s work in making co-production a reality. Over the past decade, more than 60 Israeli films have been made with significant financing from abroad, and Droste- Deselaers attributes much of this successful collaboration to Schory’s efforts.
“The most important thing he’s done is start to connect our cultures,” says Droste-Deselaers. “He’s opened Europe up to Israeli films, and Israel to European films.”
Droste-Deselaers’ foundation has financed and helped develop some of the most important Israeli films of the past 10 years, including Eran Ricklis’ The Syrian Bride and Lemon Tree, Dror Shaul’s Sweet Mud (which took the top award at the Sundance Film Festival), and Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon (the winner of the Golden Lion Award at the last Venice International Film Festival).
“More than a third of the financing for Israeli films over the last 10 years has come from co-production money,” explains Schory. And of that sum, half is from Germany and France. “That’s more than we get from all the Israeli broadcasting companies combined.”
Droste-Deselaers’ foundation and other organizations help Israeli filmmakers at all stages of production, even developing screenplays.
At an event on Sunday morning, aspiring Israeli filmmakers pitched projects to a panel of film-fund executives, distributors and producers from Europe. Once co-production money is secured, a European executive will sometimes come on board as producer.
WHILE THE success of Israeli films has been a cause for celebration, Schory and the government-affiliated Israel Film Fund have come in for criticism from those who warn that accepting foreign money will cause Israeli filmmakers to make movies geared for audiences abroad.
Schory insists that this is not a problem: “In all the years I’ve been doing this, in all the times I’ve been in the cutting room with filmmakers, I’ve never seen a director say, ‘Let’s take that out, it won’t go over in Europe.’” Droste-Deselaers agrees, saying, “If a film from Israel doesn’t touch the hearts of its home audience, it won’t work in Germany.”
Surprisingly, Droste-Deselaers says she faces no pressure at home to stop working with Israeli filmmakers due to the political situation. “Political and cultural institutions are completely separate in Germany,” she says. “This comes from the Second World War, when the government used the media, especially the radio, for propaganda. So now there is an understanding that culture should never come under the influence of politics.”
Both Schory and Droste-Deselaers stress that this partnership is truly a collaboration. “The Israel Film Fund doesn’t only receive money from Europe. It also supports and invests in the release of European films in Israel.’ Schory feels that Droste-Deselaers and her European colleagues have made a crucial contribution to the development of Israeli film. “When we started working together,” he recalls, “Israeli cinema is not what it is now. I didn’t come to them with a very successful cinema industry behind me. We were coming out of the dark years of the late Nineties. And they came with me. They trusted me and they trusted the talent of Israel.”