Gov’t Film Grants Reform Would Give More to Artists in Settlements, 'Periphery'

Panel expected to submit recommendations, including new regional foundations, to culture minister for approval

Culture Minister Miri Regev at Independence Day celebrations in April, 2018.
Ilan Assayag

About half of all government funding for film production should be allocated via three new regional foundations for West Bank settlements, the Negev and the Galilee, a committee set up to propose reforms in government support for film production is expected to recommend.

Currently, there are a few different film foundations that hand out government grants to produce new films. But the committee’s draft recommendations, which were obtained by Haaretz, propose establishing three new foundations, one each for the West Bank, Negev and Galilee. These new regional foundations would collectively receive about half of all government funding for new films.

The draft recommendations also propose tighter supervision of the foundations’ activities; four-year term limits for their executive directors and artistic directors, with an option for a second four-year term; having the lectors who decide which films to fund be appointed and paid directly by the state; and allowing films that are box-office successes to receive retroactive funding if they weren’t initially awarded a grant.

Once finalized, the recommendations will be submitted to Culture Minister Miri Regev for approval. Some of the proposed changes would also need cabinet approval, while others would require new legislation.

The committee held 22 meetings last year to scrutinize Israel’s method of state support for cinema. It decided that existing film foundations should continue to receive at least half of the state’s total budget for this purpose, but should be put under tighter supervision.

The other half of the money would go to the three new regional foundations, which would operate much like the existing Jerusalem Film & Television Fund does. Their mandate would be to actively “seek out artists and encourage them to submit funding requests,” then help them through the process of completing their film.

To cover the cost of establishing these foundations, the committee recommends allocating an extra 15 million shekels ($4.1 million) beyond the regular budget for film production grants. Another 5 million shekels would be budgeted for setting up incubators in these regions.

As for the lectors, the panel found that in most countries – including Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada and France – lectors are directly paid and appointed by the state. In Israel, in contrast, they are appointed by each foundation’s executives, which raises fears that they can’t be completely independent, the committee said.

The lectors should be a diversified group that reflects the country’s population, and should include intellectuals and cultural figures from outside the film world, to minimize the problem of the “closed club,” the panel added.

It also proposed that the Israel Film Council serve as an external appeals board to which artists whose proposals are rejected by the film foundations could appeal. If the council overrules a foundation and awards a grant, the money would not be taken from the foundation’s regular budget. Instead, it would come from a special budget allocated to the council for this purpose.

If the committee’s recommendation to increase total state funding for films to 100 million shekels is accepted, the council’s special budget for successful appeals would come to 10 million shekels.

The panel also proposed putting the existing foundations on probation for five years. If, at the end of this time, their management and results haven’t improved significantly, “the entire film budget will be switched to financing and establishing an Israeli film institute” modeled after France’s Centre National du Cinema.

Another proposal was to award tax breaks to people who invest in film to encourage new investors to enter the field. This would be a pilot program budgeted at five million shekels a year for five years, after which a decision on whether to make it permanent would be made.

Still another proposal would revise the Film Council’s composition to award a fixed number of seats to each of three groups – representatives of the film industry, representatives of the broader cultural world and representatives of the Knesset. The latter group’s makeup would reflect the makeup of the Knesset as a whole, meaning both coalition and opposition parties would be represented, but the former would have more seats.

In addition, the panel wants to simplify the foundations’ funding criteria, which today “consist of 40 complicated, exhausting pages.”

Regev appointed the committee in December 2016. “As I’ve stated in the past, Israeli film won’t remain a closed club, and its opening constitutes real cultural justice,” she said at the time.

The committee was supposed to submit its recommendations in three months. But 17 months later, they have yet to be submitted.

The panel is chaired by Galit Wahba Shasho, head of the Culture Ministry’s Cultural Administration. Its other members are Prof. David Alexander, chairman of the Israel Film Council and president of the NB Haifa School of Design; Nadav Mishali, director of the Ofakim Cinematheque; Dr. Devora Handler, a lecturer in language arts, media and film; Odelia Mines, a doctor of law; Lior Gilboa, a screenwriter and member of the Film Council; and Dr. Hani Zubida, who teaches political science at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College.