Box office hit?

The newly renovated cinematheque will soon be back in business will cost a whopping NIS 15 million.

cinematheque 298 (photo credit: )
cinematheque 298
(photo credit: )
On Monday, 10 days before the opening of the Jerusalem Film Festival, the staff of the cinematheque was still split between the newly renovated building on Derech Hebron and the temporary dwellings at the International Convention Center. But it seems it takes more to ruffle Yigal Molad-Hayo, the deputy director of the cinematheque, and the main force behind the building's huge-scale renovation. So far, the cinematheque staff, with Israel Prize laureate Lia van Leer at their head, have kept their word: They announced last year that the construction would take a year and that they would be back in the original building in time to host the 24th Jerusalem Film Festival. And indeed, on July 5, the old and beautiful building facing the Old City walls - reshaped, embellished and enlarged - will reopen for the festival, one of the most important international cultural events in Israel.
  • Cinema celebration "We said we would be ready for the 2007 film festival," says Hayo, and for him there has never been any other option. But, he adds, the refurbishment is only the first of a two-phase profound change to the original home of the cinematheque. "The first phase is nearing completion," he explains. "We've made two medium additions to the building's fa ade - one for the box offices and the other as a part of the new enlarged terrace of the main entrance. This area, which serves as a gathering spot, will now be of appropriate size, more fitted to the large events we schedule. "The excavations we made toward the old parking lot, near the grass," he continues, "will now include a large area for all kinds of facilities, including larger, luxurious restrooms, and also an enlargement of the restaurant's kitchen. "While we're back home as of next week, the work will continue for another year, which will bring us finally to our main design, with a new wing, including two additional theaters and much more." The first stage of construction included the installation of a new climate control system for the whole complex (the previous system used to break down); soft carpets, new and comfortable chairs, and a modern ceiling design; and the transformation of the lower lobby, which used to house the ticket counters, into an elegant and large hall circling the theaters. The next step, which has already begun, includes the addition of a new wing to the main building; and two brand-new theaters, one with 280 seats, and the other with 60 seats, for intimate events such as lectures by researchers or special guests. The new wing is on the lowest level of the whole complex, near the Mount Zion Hotel, and will lead to the parking lot, which will ultimately be connected to the main building by an elevator to the upper floor and the new box offices. It will allow an enlargement of the mediatheque (the library of rare and historical films of the cinematheque), which serves students and researchers, local and from abroad. There will also be a private show room for students, and rooms for seminars and lectures connected with the mediatheque. "Last but not least," adds Hayo, "we will also, at last, enlarge and improve the office spaces so that our staff will finally, after so many years, enjoy better working conditions. "And the icing on the cake of the whole project," he adds, "will be a large terrace, all around the main building and the new wing, overlooking the Old City walls and, farther away, the Judean Desert." The estimated completion date is next year's film festival. And the cost? A whopping NIS 15 million. Funding for the project was provided, in large part, by two foundations: the Van Leer Foundation from Holland, and the Ostrovsky Family Foundation, which helped found the cinematheque over 20 years ago with an NIS 1m. donation. "It covers everything," says Hayo. "The move to and from the International Convention Center, the additional furniture, the work on the building, the two parts of the project, and special payments to the Israel Lands Administration for the additional plot in the Ben Hinnom Valley. "It's all exclusively donations," insists Hayo. "We didn't even try to appeal to the government. Even Mifal Hapayis is not available today, since all its funds are allocated for the [yet to be undertaken] arena project [near Malha] according to a decision of the municipality during [then-mayor Ehud] Olmert's days." Also supporting the renovation were the Jerusalem Foundation and the Meyerhoff Foundation, as well as "a special donation made to us by Max Palevsky, one of the greatest producers in Hollywood, who loves the cinematheque and supports us," says Hayo. The cinematheque's annual budget is between NIS 17m. and NIS 18m., adds Hayo, of which 50 percent is donations and the other half sales revenue, and grants from the Jerusalem Municipality and Culture Ministry. Hayo points out that the film festival isn't alone among the cinematheque's achievements, although he agrees that "this is a peak activity." The cinematheque also runs several education programs for adults and youth, Hayo says, and recently added a new program of encounters between religious and secular, and Jews and Arabs, which have as their premise a shared love of cinema. These programs include youth from Jerusalem and its surroundings, he notes. THE YEAR of exile to another part of the city has not been easy. "It's too far away now, it's not in the neighborhood, it's like really going out," was one common reaction. Or, "The new location is not as charming as it was in the old building," and, of course, "It's no longer the cozy atmosphere we loved and enjoyed, it's no longer an intimate gathering place." Such have been the complaints of many customers, mostly residents of the city's southeast, considered the more "secular" part. The result could be seen at the screenings (often in half-empty halls) and in the profits. According to the cinematheque there has been a 22% loss of revenue. Since the very first days at the International Convention Center, there was a general feeling among cinematheque regulars and subscribers that things wouldn't be the same. This worsened when the local weekly Kol Ha'ir revealed to its readers that the cinematheque's management "forgot" to announce that in the temporary location there would be no screenings on Shabbat and holidays. The management apologized and promised to find a solution. But Hayo insists that the move yielded some positive results as well. "I know word is spreading, like it's not the same anymore, it's not an integrative part of our secular neighborhood - you know, Talbiyeh, German Colony, Baka, Talpiot. Those people, the most 'local' of our customers, had to take their car and go to the other end of the city, sometimes caught in traffic. "But hey," he adds, "we also had something to offer, like adequate parking - something we don't really have here in Derech Hebron. And also we didn't have any other choice. We checked out all kinds of other solutions... this was the best available and I don't have any regrets. "And yet," Hayo concedes, "I know that more than one customer was disappointed - to see that we couldn't have screenings on Shabbat, at least for the first four months. Later on we had an agreement with the YMCA, which worked pretty well. "But let me tell you something no less important," Hayo continues. "We also made new friends. People from Mevaseret Zion, from the northern quarters of Jerusalem discovered us - they are also residents of this city. We didn't have them [as customers] before, because it was so difficult to reach us from their neighborhoods, especially with the unbearable traffic we have here. Now, I guess and hope, they are familiar with us, and will stay faithful even when we go back to our 'home' in Talpiot. "I know the term used here: 'Island of sanity,'" says Hayo. "It's not me who coined this phrase, but there is something to it - that those who live in this part of the city represent the large part of the secular-culture customer-intelligentsia and the like. "I only say that the cinematheque serves all the residents of this city and that if we had to exile ourselves for a period to improve our dwelling and situation, people should not react as if someone took away their favorite toy." THE JERUSALEM Cinematheque opened in 1981. It was the fulfillment of a dream shared by a couple, Wim and Lia van Leer, who managed to convince the then-mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, their close friend, that it was just what the capital needed. Kollek had no idea what Lia was talking about, and for a while he even thought she meant a kind of discotheque where films would be shown, but he agreed and facilitated the attribution of the plot, facing the Old City walls, eight years after the Van Leers came to Jerusalem from Haifa. Three years later, in 1984, the cinematheque inaugurated the first Jerusalem Film Festival. The cinematheque quickly became a major cultural destination in the city, and has maintained a special standing. Since most of its budget comes from private donors, it is relatively free of the financial threats that await the city's other cultural institutions. This encouraged its directors to go forward with the large-scale and costly renovation. BACK TO this year's film festival, Hayo admits the choice of an animation picture, Ratatouille, is controversial, but believes it was a good selection. "Remember when we opened with Shrek? It was a hit. I don't think that choosing an animation film means that we couldn't find something better." Hayo does admit that this year the cinematheque had problems convincing celebrities to come as guests. "Yes, it's true, it's not easy to get the big names to be our guests for the opening of the festival, as we would like. "Times are different - the situation, political and military, is not easy, and it's a hard mission. We are still trying. There are a couple of names that we still hope to host here next week, but since nothing is finalized, I cannot reveal the names. Let me just assure you we're talking about at least two of the box-office heavyweights in America." Still, he continues, "We do have very important guests - directors of festivals in Europe and in the US, from Berlin, from Cannes, from the independent movie industry... perhaps their names are less well-known to the general public, but believe me, their impact on the Jerusalem Film Festival and the Israeli film industry is much much greater, and ultimately, that is what really matters."