Jerusalem's Sam Spiegel Film Lab celebrates its first decade

The Lab celebration will feature 10 movies, one every year, made by graduates of the Film Lab and which give a good idea of the high level of success achieved by the Film Lab

 LAB GRADUATES Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic (left) and Abner Benaim. (photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)
LAB GRADUATES Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic (left) and Abner Benaim.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)

There is a lot to celebrate at the Jerusalem Sam Spiegel Film Lab, which will mark its 10th anniversary this week by throwing a special program/party/mini film festival on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Jerusalem Sam Spiegel Film School (JSFS) created and runs both the Film Lab and the newer, Sam Spiegel Series Lab for television creators. Ahead of the celebration, JSFS director Dana Blankstein Cohen gave me a tour of the new Sam Spiegel building at the recently opened Jerusalem Arts Campus in the center of town, which is also the home of the Center for Middle Eastern Classical Music, the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio and the School of Visual Theatre.

The new JSFS building features several stories and includes three state-of-the-art movie theaters, a sound stage, huge editing facilities, lounges, a movie/DVD library and balconies that offer spectacular views of downtown Jerusalem and the Valley of the Cross. t’s quite breathtaking when you compare it to the funky but cramped building in Talpiot that housed the school and labs for many years, on Sam Spiegel Alley, a street that was renamed for the school, which was founded by Renen Schorr.

“We are eventually planning to have these theaters showing movies by our graduates, our students and Lab participants that will be open to the community.”

Dana Blankstein Cohen

“We are eventually planning to have these theaters showing movies by our graduates, our students and Lab participants that will be open to the community,” said Cohen, as we looked in a class in one of the theaters. “We want to make this campus into a center for creativity.”

How will the Sam Spiegel Film Lab celebrate its first 10 years?

The Lab celebration will feature 10 movies, one every year, made by graduates of the Film Lab and which give a good idea of the high level of success achieved by the Film Lab, which admits six Israeli participants and six participants from abroad every year. The Film Lab has helped filmmakers from 45 countries develop 114 movies. Forty-five of the films have already been produced and released, an extremely high number for a film lab and 75% of these have been shown at prestigious film festivals, winning top prizes at Cannes, Berlin and many other places, as well as an Oscar, which was awarded to Lazlo Nemes’ Holocaust drama, Son of Saul, in the Best International Feature category, in 2016.

 THE NEW Sam Spiegel building. (credit: Amir Brenner Lighting Design) THE NEW Sam Spiegel building. (credit: Amir Brenner Lighting Design)

SON OF Saul will be among the films to be screened as part of the two-day event. The other films will be Plaza Catedral by Abner Benaim of Panama, which was shortlisted for an Oscar; Apprentice by Junfeng Boo of Korea, which was shown in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival; Gentle by Anna Nemes and Laszlo Csuja of Hungary, which competed at the Sundance Film Festival; Anatolian Leopard by Emre Kayis of Turkey, which won the FIPRESCI Discovery Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival; Murina, by Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic of Croatia, which Martin Scorsese executive produced and which won the Camera d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival; Suro by Mikel Gurrea of Spain, which won the FIPRESCI Prize at the San Sebastian International Film Festival; and A Taste of Ink by Morgan Simon of France, which received a special mention in the New Directors competition at the San Sebastian Film Festival.

The Israeli films to be shown at the celebration are Cinema Sabaya by Orit Fouks Rotem, which won the 2022 Ophir Award and Fig Tree by Alamork Davidian, winner of the Eurimages Audentia Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

There will be a panel on film development hosted by Mor Eldar, the director of the Labs, that will feature director Avi Nesher, producer Marek Rozenbaum, Lab graduate and Cinema Sabaya director Orit Fouks Rotem and Lab graduate Aleeza Chanowitz, who created the television series Chanshi and who is currently developing her first feature film. The following evening, there will be a master class with Lab graduate, Nadav Lapid, whose film, Synonyms won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival, in 2019.

Nesher, one of Israel’s leading directors, has worked with the Film Lab for year as a mentor and praised its work. “One of my greatest joys is discovering interesting work done by young filmmakers... For many years, I have agreed to serve as a screenwriting mentor for many international film labs but my favorite lab by far has always been the Jerusalem Film Lab, in that it accords complete freedom to these filmmakers in terms of subject matter, political attitudes and complete disregard for the oppressive dos and don’ts that the cultural establishment usually forces upon artists... Alfred Hitchcock once said that there are three keys to a successful movie: screenplay, screenplay, screenplay.” He added that he makes himself available to the directors he mentors in the Labs, advising them after their films go into production. 

SAID ELDAR, “In English, we use the word Lab, but in Hebrew, it’s called a ‘hamama’ which means greenhouse and that’s a more accurate word for what we do here. We give them what they need to develop their work. They get support, guidance and they are able to make connections with foreign producers.”

The Lab was launched in 2011, with the support of the Sam Spiegel Estate, a foundation that also helped establish the JSFS, in 1989. Among the other supporters of the Lab are the Beracha Foundation, the Rothschild Foundation, the Jerusalem Foundation, Mifal HaPayis and Factory 54.

The Jerusalem Sam Spiegel Series Lab, which takes eight series ideas from aspiring Israeli creators and develops them, has graduated its first class and a second one is underway. Netflix is one of the partners that work with the participants and Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos visited Israel and gave a master class at the Lab and also award the prize to the winning series in Los Angeles of the first Series Lab. The Series Lab also partners with Paramount, which has acquired the Israeli production company, Ananey, and creators from Ananey work with the Lab.

Making contacts with important industry professionals is part of what both the film and television labs offer, Cohen said. “In the film and television Labs, participants make important connections, human connections and are able to network through the pitching events, master classes and work with mentors. Personal connections are always important in a competitive industry. For the latest edition of the Series Lab, we got over 100 applicants for eight spots.”

She added that in the future, the Series Lab would likely include international participants. “It’s the television era now.”

But for both film and television creators, she said, “The Labs provide a springboard and the opportunity of development. They’re game changers for the participants.”