There must be more money
Many people view Ram Loevy as one of the most important Israeli directors in recent decades and deem some of his documentary films for television and the cinema such as "Bread," "Closure," and "Indiani in the Sun" as among the most important ever made here.
So it sounded like good news when about a year ago the Yehoshua Rabinovich Foundation for the Arts decided to support his first feature film, "The Dead of Jaffa." It's the story of a bourgeois Arab family in Jaffa thrown into turmoil by the arrival of three Arab children from the West Bank. But the project is not yet even in the filming stage. Like many other films of late it has not found support from a broadcasting company.
Even films by directors who have already been successful are not immune to this phenomenon. For example, Eran Kolirin's new feature, which is due to begin filming in February, remains without support from a broadcaster. Concerns abound in the local film industry about the recent clenched-fist policy of the television franchisees.
"Movies that were approved six or eight months ago still aren't showing signs of getting underway," says Israel Film Fund director Katriel Schory. "This is because in addition to our investment, they need to bring in additional investment. It used to be that we'd approve our investment in a film and the filmmakers would go out shopping with our letter at the broadcasting companies to raise the remaining sum. Back then the broadcasting companies would invest $200,000 in a film. Today, when filmmakers have their backs to the wall, if they give them $80,000 that's good, but usually they don't give anything. In 2009 we approved eight projects - five of them are still trying to find their way," he says.
"We're all intoxicated right now by the success of 'Ajami' and 'Lebanon.' But what's going to happen next fall? The industry isn't working and the money is waiting in the bank. Within a year this will be felt at movie theaters. It's a flashing red light warning us not to stop Israeli cinema's momentum, and we will pay a high price for this. Suddenly there's been a retreat that derives from the fact that the broadcast companies aren't sticking to their commitments and don't consider themselves partners to what is happening here."
People are also worried at the Yehoshua Rabinovich Foundation. "Many productions are drying up because they lack additional funding," says the foundation's head of productions, Yoav Abramovich. "Beyond the budgetary problem, it's harmful to the production's momentum. If there isn't money from an Israeli broadcasting source, filming is postponed, the production can dry out for a long period and the creative momentum is hurt. In some cases, productions set out with incomplete funding and the filmmakers have to cut where it hurts."
The film industry is currently suffering from severe side effects of the prolonged negotiations over Channel 10's fate. In recent months local filmmakers have had difficulty raising funds for new films because of the attempt by Channel 10's owners to avoid their commitment to invest in films. This in turn has caused the other broadcasters to halt their investments in films while waiting for the outcome of the discussion on Channel 10.
According to producer Assaf Amir, a representative of the filmmakers in the negotiations on Channel 10, the other broadcasting companies - especially the franchisees of Channel 2, Channel 10's main competitor - are waiting to see how the Knesset and the Second Broadcasting Authority deal with Channel 10.
"If they see these two bodies insisting on Channel 10's obligation to invest in films, right away all the other organizations will go back to investing in films and fulfill their obligations," Amir says.
Of all the broadcasters in Israel, says Amir, in recent months only HOT has continued to invest in films as usual. "During the past half year I have been able to approach HOT ... with an excellent screenplay. At Keshet, which over the years stood by its commitment to invest in films, they have repeatedly said they haven't yet decided on their future policy for investing in films," he says. "There's no point in sending screenplays to Channel 10 because they've always said they don't invest in films. Reshet has recently stopped investing in films ad Yes is investing a lot less in films compared to previous years."
Other producers, who have asked to remain anonymous, say they have applied to Reshet and Keshet in recent months for support for their films, but these companies have told them they are postponing their investments until they see what happens to Channel 10.
However, according to the head producer of the Israel Film Academy, Marek Rosenbaum, "They aren't saying it's because of Channel 10; they're waiting to see what happens. They aren't even reading screenplays. We're in suspension."
The response from Reshet: "Reshet has invested, is investing and will invest in films. We select projects carefully, and as proof there's the investment in the film 'Ajami.'"
Keshet (which has invested a large sum in the feature "This is Sodom," a production by the team of its flagship show "A Wonderful Country") has declined to comment, while Yes has made it clear that in contrast to the Channel 2 franchisees they are to obligated by law to invest in films specifically. "The Cable and Satellite Council obligates us to invest in films or miniseries," a source at Yes says. "This year we have chosen for the first time to invest in miniseries."
The following is a list of films in various stages of production that are due to hit the screen over the next two years. Many of the films in early stages are still seeking additional funding. If it is not found soon, the productions are likely to stall.
Most of these projects have already been approved by the support foundations but are still looking for additional funding from broadcast companies or other sources:
"Abanibi" - The new film by Shemi Zarhin ("Aviva My Love") for which filming is planned for the second half of 2010. Four young people set out on a journey, but a big secret from the past puts their lives to the test. On their way from Jerusalem to Paris, Marseilles and finally Algiers, the protagonists follow a long and bizarre trail full of surprises.
"Filling the Vacuum" - an intriguing debut film by Sam Spiegel Film and Rama Burstein. Producer Assaf Amir defines the film as a kind of Jane Austen in the ultra-Orthodox world: A young ultra-Orthodox woman seeks to marry a promising yeshiva scholar, but after her older sister dies in childbirth her family concentrates on finding a bride for the new widower.
"The Slut" - Hagar Ben Asher's film about a woman of 35, the mother of two, who lives in a moshav and has a number of lovers. Her life hits a turning point when a veterinarian returns to the moshav. Filming is scheduled to start within four or five months.
"Farewell Baghdad" - 25 years after "On a Narrow Bridge," Nissim Dayan is again directing a feature film based on a book by Eli Amir. It's the story of the Iraqi Jewish community on the eve of their immigration to Israel at the start of the 1950s. It's also the story of the maturation of an adolescent who by force of circumstances becomes an activist in the Zionist underground.
"Dancing Arabs" - Brazilian Katia Lund ("City of God") will direct a film based on Sayed Kashua's book. The story of an Israeli Arab boy who is accepted to a boarding school in Jerusalem is intertwined with that of a Jewish friend he meets there. But problems arise when it comes time for conscription into the army. Filming is planned for October.
"Plastelina" - The new film by Vidi Bilu (who co-directed "Close to Home" with Dalia Hagar) is set in Jerusalem in 1966. It follows the life of an 11-year-old girl who lives with her parents near the border between West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem and watches her familiar world crumble.
"In Fifth Heaven" - Dina Zvi-Riklis ("Three Mothers") will direct a film based on the book by Rachel Eitan about a girl who arrives at an orphanage in Mandate Palestine in 1944 after all trace of her mother was lost in Europe.
Other films in stages of production: "Layla and still Layla" (Tamar Yarom); "Igor and the Flight of the Cranes" (Evgeny Ruman); "The House on the Corner" (Marco Carmel); "The Past is Still Ahead of Him" (Nissim Notrika); "Central Bus Station" (Ami Livne); "The Unforgettables" (Matan Guggenheim); "Elvira" (Amos Kollek); "The Policeman" (Nadav Lapid); "Rock in the Casbah" (Yariv Horowitz) and "The Dead of Jaffa" (Ram Loevy).