First, not a single cabinet member bothered to congratulate the directors of Israel’s two Oscar-nominated documentaries this year. Now, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat has said she is not the least bit sorry that neither “The Gatekeepers” nor “5 Broken Cameras” brought home the statuette in their category. And in an interview she expressed regret over what she said were “too many movies” made in the past few years “that libel Israel throughout the world.”
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In response, four professional organizations for Israeli filmmakers − representing producers, directors, screenwriters and documentarians − on Thursday sent Livnat a letter of protest.
In an interview with Channel 10 television’s “Economic Night” finance program on Tuesday, Livnat declared that she did not even watch the Oscars award ceremony on Sunday and felt no anxiety about the announcement of the winner in the Best Documentary category. “I was anxious mainly because I wanted ‘Lincoln’ to win best director,” Livnat said with a grin.
The Culture Ministry expressed dissatisfaction with how the various foundations decide which films to support, saying that unfortunately the organizations that underwrite movie productions in Israel “somehow have never found any screenplays that talk about other things, that present the State of Israel in a different light.” She said she hoped the changes to the criteria for obtaining funding that the Israel Film Council approved recently would change this situation.
In their letter to Livnat the professional associations wrote: “The role of the culture minister is to promote art in Israel, not to act as a censor. During your tenure hundreds of films were made in Israel that present the rich and complex aspects of life here in all their great variety: Jews, Arabs, secular, religious, right and left. It’s true that among these were critical movies as well, but that is the main purpose of art: to challenge the public and present an alternative to the mainstream that flourishes in every medium ... We are proud of [“The Gatekeepers” director] Dror Moreh, [“5 Broken Cameras” directors] Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, whether or not we agree with their opinions and messages. They made important movies, to the benefit of open debate and pluralism here, and deserve every acclaim.”
In response, Livnat wrote: “I was shocked by your shock. Perhaps you should listen again to my remarks to ‘Economic Night,’ or perhaps you don’t want to listen in any event. I spoke against censorship ... In any event, I should remind you that it was your opinions and the conduct of the film foundations that are behind the growing calls, in the Knesset and by the public, for intervention in the criteria for support.
“For that reason,” Livnat continued in her letter, “I, who am opposed to censorship, call on all of you to [conduct] self-censorship. After all, Israel is a democracy to be proud of but a democracy goes into self-defense mode when ranged against five broken cameras are thousands of families that have been destroyed by Palestinian terror. You do nothing about that − you don’t make movies, you are living in a movie ...”