Israel Prize-winning film director Judd Ne’eman is dead at 84

In 1989, he made what the few who have seen it consider to be a work of brilliance, and one which certainly turned out to be prophetic, Streets of Yesterday.

nuzhat 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
nuzhat 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Judd Ne’eman, an Israeli movie director who was also a physician and who was awarded the Israel Prize in 2009, died on Sunday at the age of 84. 

As a filmmaker, he was known for artistic films as well as for hard-hitting political documentaries, many of which dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as Paratroopers (1977) and Fellow Travelers (1983). Among a devoted circle of movie lovers, he was considered one of the finest directors in Israel.

In 1989, he made what the few who have seen it consider to be a work of great brilliance, and one that certainly turned out to be prophetic, Streets of Yesterday. It told the fictional story of a right-wing extremist who assassinates a top Israeli government official when he proposes talks with the Palestinians. The film, which was made in English because Ne’eman received international financing for the project, received many scathing reviews from critics who considered it so unrealistic as to be delusional.

After the killing of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin six years later, it turned out to be tragically ahead of its time. Ne’eman, who was never able to get financing for the film to be made in Hebrew (at first because it was considered so unrealistic as to be marginal, and later because it was seen as uninteresting once such an assassination had actually taken place), stopped making films for a number of years.

When he released the movie Nuzhat al Fuad in 2006, there was great curiosity to see what he had to say after nearly two decades away from filmmaking. The movie, which stars Efrat Gosh and Mohammad Bakri, takes a complex look at the intersection between art, emotion, family and legend, and weaves in the One Thousand and One Nights stories. It was praised by many as a masterpiece.

He followed it up with two documentaries, Zitra (Tomorrow): Of Truth and Reconciliation, about young Israeli and German musicians bringing to life the story of a Holocaust survivor, and To the Desert, the story of a close friendship that survives a political disagreement.

In addition to his careers as a director and a doctor, Ne’eman was also a poet, studied math, physics and theater and served as head of the film department at Tel Aviv University. He received military honors for his treatment of the wounded on the battlefield in the Six Day War, the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War.

Ne’eman died of cancer, and his family said he had been at work on another film.