Coen brothers
Ethan Coen, with microphone, and Joel Coen Sunday, May 15, 2011. Photo by Nir Keidar
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Joel and Ethan Coen, the critically acclaimed American filmmaking duo, received together one of three prestigious Dan David Prizes for 2011 yesterday at Tel Aviv University.

The awards committee called the two brothers a unique phenomenon in the history of cinema because of their ability "to bring narrative complexity to apparently simple plots."

The Coen brothers - who have won four Academy Awards and were nominated for nine others for hits such as "True Grit," "Fargo," "No Country for Old Men," and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" - will share $1 million in prize money.

During a press conference following the awards ceremony, the Coens were asked whether they had been encouraged to turn down the honor and refuse to travel to Israel. After hesitating, Joel Cohen said there were no such lobbying attempts, and then asked to change the subject.

When the brothers were, nevertheless, asked to comment about decisions by fellow directors to support a cultural boycott of Israel, they once again paused before making a diplomatic response.

"People respond to [certain] real problems from the heart, and they think that's the right thing to do," said Ethan Coen, who explained that he and his brother do not agree with that response.

The two were also asked how their Jewish background impacted their artistic outlook. There have been Jewish characters in their movies, Joel Coen said, "but as far as whether our background influences our filmmaking - who knows?" He added they don't really think about it, but there's no doubt that "our Jewish heritage affects how we see things."

The brothers grew up in a Jewish community, but never thought to make a story that deals with Israel, he continued: "We don"t really know Israel - we write American stories. That's what we know."

The Coens noted that their mother lived for a time in pre-state Israel, and that they had been waiting for an opportunity to visit the Holy Land.

"We've wanted to come here for a long time, but life got in the way," said Joel Coen, adding that they were happy to have this chance to visit and would be spending a few days at Tel Aviv University.

The Coens said they have no plans to make a movie in 3-D, nor did they divulge details about their next project.

The other Dan David Prize winners for 2011 were University of California at San Francisco Prof. Cynthia Kenyon and Harvard Medical School Prof. Gary Ruvkun for their work in gerontology, and Stanford University Medical School Prof. Marcus Feldman, for his work in the evolutionary sciences.