Putting Jerusalem in the frame

Jerusalem Film and TV Fund director Yoram Honig’s attempts to turn the capital into a film powerhouse have begun to pay off.

Natalie Portman Cannes Film Festival (photo credit: REUTERS)
Natalie Portman Cannes Film Festival
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Think of film industry hot spots around the world. Hollywood, of course, will top the list, and you could add New York, London, Paris, Rome and Mumbai. But what about Jerusalem? Yes, Jerusalem.
Okay, so we’re not talking about a multi-billion-dollar mega-cinematic setup, but things have really started to shift in the capital in recent years. Much of the growth has been down to the sterling work of the Jerusalem Film and TV Fund, which was born in 2008 under the aegis of the Jerusalem Development Authority, and does its best to support a wide range of projects, from big-budget international ventures to animation productions and post-production work carried out locally.
Yoram Honig, director of the Jerusalem Film and TV Fund and a proud 10th generation Jerusalemite, says that there is absolutely no reason why the capital should not lead the national film industry.
“Jerusalem is the largest city in the country with 3,500 years of history, culture and architecture,” he states. “It is also the capital, and the most beautiful city in the world,” he adds without a hint of a smirk. “And yet, out of 700 movies made in this country before the fund was established, over 60 years of the state’s existence, just 30 were made in Jerusalem.”
That’s quite a statistic. There’s more.
“Out of those 30, 27 were stereotypical – about the ultra-Orthodox and conflict,” Honig continues. “I’m not saying that doesn’t exist, but we also have here students, and we have 800,000 people living here who have not been given screen time.”
Things weren’t always so dire.
“There were all sorts of studios in Jerusalem,” says Honig. “In the 1960s there was cinema work going on here, and there were studios – JCS, which moved to Tel Aviv, and there was Castel Studios – and, of course, in the 1970s and 1980s there was Channel 1 TV, which was the country’s only television station which put out a lot of original work. Then, when Channel 2 started, Channel 1 collapsed.”
According to Honig, the migration of the industry to Tel Aviv meant that around 80 percent of film and TV work took place in that city, with a measly 4% being undertaken in Jerusalem.
“That’s what we were set up to change,” he declares.
“We want to change that situation in cultural terms – to show Jerusalem in a different light – and in financial terms.”
The latter is certainly a major part of the fund’s efforts to promote filmic derring-do in Jerusalem, which focuses largely on animation projects, carried out by both local and foreign setups. The Jerusalem Municipality is a prominent contributor, and has set up a one-stop shop that provides operating permits and helps to provide basic facilities.
The financials are, of course, a major part of the fund’s work, designed to draw film crews to the capital from all over the globe, as well as other parts of the country, and they make for impressive reading. Big-budget international productions, for example, can get a whopping 60% cash rebate on their outlay in Jerusalem, up to a ceiling of NIS 10 million, while standard-budget international productions can get a refund of 50%, up to NIS 1.6m.
International animation productions based in Jerusalem can recoup 35% of their expenditure, amounting up to NIS 4m., and movie people from abroad looking to do administer the post-production phase in Jerusalem can also get back 35%, or up to NIS 250,000.
But it is not just any old project that gets such generous municipal backing. Big-budget international productions have to invest at least NIS 8m. in their activities in Israel, and the city has to be the thematic fulcrum of the movie or the TV series in question. In addition, at least half of the Israeli filming schedule has to take place in Jerusalem. That is a mindset clearly designed to push Jerusalem’s global profile up several notches.
Part of the fund’s purview was also to draw industry professionals back to Jerusalem.
“They are some excellent schools here, for film and animation – the Sam Spiegel School, Bezalel and Ma’aleh – but the students, even from their third year of studies, already start returning to Tel Aviv to find work” says Honig. “We want to keep them here, and even to attract people from Tel Aviv.”
That endeavor is already bearing tangible fruits with, for example, Snowball Studios in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul district going great guns, by all accounts. The company landed a highly sought-after contract to produce several episodes of the Disney animated children’s series Star Darlings and, true to the fund’s vision, actually brings employees over from Tel Aviv on a daily basis.
When the wherewithal was made available to the fund Honig and his cohorts were faced with a logistics conundrum.
“We had to decide what to do with the money,” he recalls. “Some said we should build wonderful studios, but I said we needed to bring the best directors in Israel to Jerusalem, and then everyone would want to come here. I didn’t want to go for a technical approach.”
The directorial wish list included the likes of internationally acclaimed professionals such as Yossef Cedar, Eran Riklis and Nir Bergman, who were wooed to the capital, and the Jerusalem cinema community grew by leaps and bounds.
“Within a year and a half [after creating the fund], the proportion of Israeli films that were shot in Jerusalem, rose from 4% to 25%. Now we’re at 30%,” Honig notes.
There have been some A-lister cast movies made in Jerusalem in recent years, such as A Tale of Love and Darkness, directed by and starring Natalie Portman, and Richard Gere was in Jerusalem last year to shoot Cedar’s new offering, Oppenheimer Strategies. The movie is due out later this year.
The fund’s efforts are clearly producing the goods, and the ongoing burgeoning of Jerusalem’s animation, movie and TV endeavors will, no doubt, yield ever greater gains for the city.
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