Michael Reilhac - Emil Salman - July 2011
Michael Reilhac. Photo by Emil Salman
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"I am dazed and shocked by the decision. I am very hurt by it," Michel Reilhac, Executive Director of ARTE France Cinema and Head of Acquisitions for Cinema with ARTE France, told Haaretz in response to the Jerusalem Film Festival's decision to cancel the Best Full-Length Debut Film Award to "Beautiful Valley."

Reilhac, one of the people directly responsible for the massive support from ARTE for Israeli films in recent years and considered one of Israeli cinema's greatest supporters abroad, acknowledged in a conversation with Haaretz that he is very hurt by the way the festival in Jerusalem behaved. He would never come back to cooperate with it in the future, he said.

"This is provincial and unprofessional behavior," Reilhac commented, noting that many of his colleagues abroad shared this view.

Reilhac's harsh response to the incident is causing a great deal of concern among the heads of the local film industry.

"Years of work have gone down the drain. We have been working for years to develop connections and to build relations with people like Reilhac," said Israel Film Fund director Katriel Schory yesterday.

"ARTE France has invested a tremendous amount of money in Israeli cinema in recent years, more than 3 million euros, and now, after the festival, Reilhac is telling us: 'I have never been as hurt as I have been now and I will think very hard about the continuation of our relationship with the Israeli cinema.'

"That this affair is causing damage to the festival - we can live with that. But that it's threatening to damage Israeli cinema - I think this is terrible. I'm not blaming anyone but I am crying inside. It will take us a long time to repair this damage."

The sequence of events in the affair seems especially depressing. Reilhac was invited by the Jerusalem Film Festival to serve as one of the five members of the jury in the Israeli Full-Length Film Competition, which is the central competition at the festival. Even before the opening, festival program director Avinoam Harpak called the attention of acting Jerusalem Cinematheque director Yigal Molad Hayo to the fact that Reilhac had a conflict of interests because he had served as a co-producer of "Beautiful Valley," Hadar Friedlich's film that was entered in the competition.

In the wake of this, it was agreed that the Cinematheque's director of special projects, Gilli Mendel, who was supposed to participate in the jury's final meeting, would see to it that Reilhac would not take part in the voting on Friedlich's film.

Mendel did ask Reilhac not to take part in the vote concerning "Beautiful Valley;" but in the end, the senior ARTE executive chose nevertheless to take part in all the jury's decisions and, inter alia, supported the award to "Beautiful Valley."

He was also the deciding vote on the matter, since two of the other jury members supported awarding the prize to Nadav Lapid's film, "The Policeman."

Only after the final ceremony had ended and the prizes had been distributed, and only after film critic Meir Schnitzer contacted the festival management and inquired about Reilhac's conflict of interests did the festival management realize they had to find a solution to the imbroglio into which they had blundered.

Following discussions, it was decided to withdraw the prize awarded to "Beautiful Valley" and hold new consultations with the four other jury members, without Reilhac, in order to choose the film deserving of the prize. The outcome: The makers of "Beautiful Valley" were caused great mental distress through no fault of their own, and one of Israeli cinema's greatest backers abroad was left with a bitter taste in his mouth.

"I understand the argument to the effect that since I am a co-producer of 'Beautiful Valley' I should not have participated in the decision whether to award the prize to that film. The idea is correct, but it is important to understand that in this case, there was no separate vote on each of the films," Reilhac explained.

"We [the jury] had to award 12 prizes and we held a joint discussion on all the films that participated in the competition. There weren't deliberations on each film individually. We talked about all the films together and we were constantly comparing the different films.

"Anyone who thinks my vote was problematic should know that the problem doesn't only concern 'Beautiful Valley.' I also had a connection to 'Good Morning Mr. Fidelman' [which ultimately won three prizes in the competition, among them Best Film], because we gave it a prize at the pitching event at the last festival. And I was also involved in 'The Policeman' because I am close to Nadav Lapid and I talked with him a lot about the film. And the same applies to 'Man Without a Cell Phone.'

"My involvement in funding Israeli cinema is not far from that of the film foundations that are active here, and therefore I am connected to four or five Israeli films every year. As a person who is known as one of the major supporters of Israeli cinema, there is no doubt that those who invited me to serve on the jury at the Jerusalem festival knew I had been involved in the production of very many Israeli films."

Reilhac made it clear that he was stunned by the decision to revoke the award, explaining that he did not prefer the film over others and notes that the jury members at film festivals around the world are usually people from the film industry who are connected to many films in various ways - whether by financial investments, help in developing the film, or helping the filmmakers network.

"I am very angry, for two reasons: First of all, I think this is an appalling, stupid and insulting decision because the procedure for choosing the films is, as I said, global, and was not based on discussion of each film individually," Reilhac explained.

"If any of the people in the room had a problem with what was happening, they should have stood up and said so. Secondly, I think that from the outset they should not have invited me to be on the jury for this competition, if they see some problem with me in the context of the Israeli cinema.

"I will never set foot in the Jerusalem festival auditorium again," Reilhac said. "And apparently,, though on this matter I shall have to consult with my colleagues at ARTE, we will also withdraw our support for the Jerusalem Film Festival. I have no interest in cooperating with a festival that has treated me like this. I'll tell you frankly, after many years during which I waged a determined struggle for support for Israeli films and Israeli filmmakers, I feel very disappointed now.

"Altogether, people from various countries who I've told about the conduct of the festival in Jerusalem have all said this is provincial and unprofessional conduct."

However, when asked if this unfortunate incident will affect ARTE's support for Israeli films in the near future, Reilhac's reply was firm: "This will not affect ARTE's support for the Israeli cinema," he said emphatically. "Our problem is only with the Jerusalem Film Festival people. They showed terrible management ability and a flawed understanding of a jury's role at a festival; but this isn't connected to Israeli cinema on the whole and therefore it will not cause us to reconsider our support for Israeli films.

"There's no reason why Israeli filmmakers should suffer because of the Jerusalem Festival's disgraceful conduct."