The reel deal

The Israel Film Archive, housed at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, preserves the heart and soul of Israeli history.

film reel, movie, cinema (photo credit: REUTERS)
film reel, movie, cinema
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘It’s like a fingerprint of reality,” said Noa Regev, the CEO and director of the Jerusalem Cinematheque and the Jerusalem Film Festival, of the Israel Film Archive. “It preserves the truth.”
The Israel Film Archive is perhaps the least visible part of the Jerusalem Cinematheque empire, but it is the underpinning on which the rest of the enterprise rests. Before the late Lia van Leer, who passed away in March 2015, created the cinematheques and film festivals in Haifa and Jerusalem, she began collecting both Israeli and international films, which she would screen in a film club. The legend goes that in the early days, she kept the collection under her bed. But it grew into Israel’s national film collection, the Israel Film Archive, which is a member of the International Federation of Film Archives.
In a recent interview in her office overlooking Gai Ben Hinnom, Regev spoke passionately about the IFA’s importance, as the archive staff races against time to digitize the more than 30,000 prints, mainly in 35- and 16-millimeter formats.
The archive also includes approximately 20,000 videocassettes.
“The archive is a cultural and historical treasure of the first order,” says Regev. “It includes virtually every movie that was ever made in Israel,” including silent films, newsreels, advertisements and footage that was shot all over the country throughout the 20th century, as well as Israeli feature films, documentaries and student films.
The IFA even includes some films from the 19th century, Regev says.
“The first film is from 1896, the Lumiere brothers’ Train Station in Jerusalem. It was part of their work documenting exotic places around the world. It was digitally restored, and you can see the difference before and after.”
There are an extraordinary number of such gems in the collection, says Regev, among them two films that were digitally restored and shown at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival in 2015: The Life of the Jews (1913) and Back to Zion (1921).
Other films that have been restored are Uri Zohar’s adaptation of A. B.
Yehoshua’s novella Three Days and a Child, which won the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival for Oded Kotler’s performance in 1967; and Etz O Palestina, a compilation of newsreel footage shot by Nathan Axelrod.
In an evening devoted to rare archival footage at the Jerusalem Cinematheque several years ago, I saw clips of Alfred Hitchcock visiting Jerusalem to scout locations for the 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much (in the end, Hitchcock filmed in Morocco). There are films that show many of the most important figures in Israeli and Jewish history, among them Joseph Trumpeldor and Ze’ev Jabotinsky.
There are also films in the collection that document the Holocaust.
“Some of these reels we have in the archive are the only footage of these figures and events that exists in the world,” she says. “The amount of historical information is amazing.”
As part of this project and in collaboration with the Jerusalem Municipality and the Beracha Foundation, which supports this work, all Israeli films will be converted to digital files in different resolutions, to preserve them both for the public and for researchers.
As the prints degrade over time (which happens gradually, even in climate-controlled storage facilities) and as the equipment to project them grows more rare, this project has become urgent.
“This digitization project is very complex and expensive,” Regev explains. “Two million meters of film need to be digitized. It’s not like scanning a text. It has to be down at different resolutions, often very high resolution, and you have to take care of the analog materials so they will be clean... Every reel has its own story. Some of the these films are almost ruined,” and require labor-intensive restoration before the digitalization process can begin. “But you still have to keep the analog films,” even after the digitization is completed, she says.
The idea behind the digitization project is not simply to preserve the films, but “to make them available for study and research... Many documentary directors will want to use the found footage in their movies and the digitization will permit people to find what they need.”
Whereas in the past, researchers and filmmakers needed to know what they were looking for, with the digitized archive they will be able to search the material easily.
Regev, a soft-spoken woman in her mid-thirties who has a doctorate in film studies from Tel Aviv University and who stepped into her current job in 2014, has an infectious enthusiasm as she discusses her plans for the archive and for the cinematheque.
There will be much to look forward to, she promised, at the upcoming 33rd Jerusalem Film Festival, which will take place from July 7-17. Perhaps the most exciting development concerning that event is that the elevator from Derech Hebron to the Jerusalem Cinematheque entrance is now open, making the venue accessible to anyone who had difficulty climbing the long staircase.
Even as the cinematheque staff gets busy planning the festival, Regev said she keeps the IFA in mind.
“The heart of the cinematheque is the archive... It’s an international treasure and it’s going to keep developing,” said Regev.
For more information about the archive or to make a donation, go to the Jerusalem Cinematheque website at