Helping hands

The level of Israeli TV and film would be nowhere without the Israel Film Fund, the Cinema Law and film schools like Sam Spiegel.

The level of Israeli TV and film, which makes it palatable for the American market, would be nowhere without the Israel Film Fund, the Cinema Law and film schools like Sam Spiegel. The Film Fund came into being in 1979, after massive lobbying in the Knesset throughout the '70s, according to its director, Katriel Schoury. Since then, the fund has supported the production of more than 280 feature films, including almost all of the marquee films Israel has become known for. "The reality is without public money there is practically no way to make a movie in this country. We are in a way the trigger, almost a publishing house," he said. "The Israel Film Fund and Katriel have been doing fantastic work developing new talents," said Deep Mud director Dror Shaul. Schoury cited an increasing cooperation with other countries on co-productions - Deep Mud lists a United Nations-worthy string of producers - as a boon for the local cinema market. "In the last four years, we've seen a constant rise in co-productions, primarily in Europe, with France, Belgium, Germany. I can say that in 2007, for the first time, almost half of the money invested in Israeli feature films came from overseas. This is unbelievable." The rest of the money comes via the Cinema Law, which came into effect in 2001 and committed the government to a steady flow of funds for the production of feature films, TV dramas and documentaries. In 2007, about NIS 38 million was allocated for feature film production. In addition, commercial, cable and satellite TV station operators are required by the law to devote part of their revenues to feature film production. "If you look at the credits of most Israeli films, the two main supporting bodies in Israel are usually the film fund and one of the local broadcasters. But the TV operators generally run to avoid their obligation," he said, adding that the promised funding is usually transferred eventually. Schoury explained that the Cinema Law has been a godsend for the Israeli film industry, and not just monetarily. "The Cinema Law added some money, but what it did more than that is we had a horizon for the first time. We knew what the budget was until the end of year. We weren't hanging in limbo any more. This was the biggest benefit of the Cinema Law; it allowed me to create a five-year massive recovery plan and go step by step to create goals and aims," he said. But the law would be rendered useless without film and TV professionals to develop the ideas, write the scripts and produce and film the shows. And that's where film schools come in. Most prominent are the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem, the Minshar Le'omanut teaching center in Tel Aviv, the Department of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University, the Sapir College of Media and Film and the Maale Film School. The Spiegel School, founded in 1989 by the Jerusalem Foundation and the Ministry of Education and Culture is named for legendary Hollywood producer Sam Spiegel and, according to its director Renen Schorr, is, along with the other film schools, developing a new breed of filmmaker. "Our ideology of telling a good story first and foremost is coming through everywhere," he said, citing Nir Bergman, the director of Broken Wing, as well as 70 percent of the B'tipul creative staff as college graduates. Besides teaching technique, Schorr cites creating a different mind-set which integrates creativity and marketing as one of the school's main achievements. "The ideology of the school is that the development of the project, the casting, the production, the post-production and the marketing are all equally important, and the amount of time and money devoted to each should be the same. You can have the best film, but if it's sitting on the shelf, you've done nothing," he said. "Once people were only striving to get the money and to enter and finish the production. Now they understand they should think about the poster as well, and which festival to open at. We used to think that you had to open locally, but now we now you can open at Cannes, or Berlin, and then come to Jerusalem or Haifa. The world has become open and bigger and with numerous options."