A Prize by Any Other Name: Israeli 'Oscar' Gets a New Benefactor

After 22 years during which the Wolgin Prize established itself as the highest, most important and prestigious award given annually to an Israeli feature film, the prize has vanished from the local film scene. The annual donation from American Jewish philanthropist Jack Wolgin - money used annually for awarding prizes to Israeli films at the Jerusalem Film Festival - stopped after his death last January. Instead, the festival in Jerusalem has been joined by a new family of donors: the Italian Haggiag family, which starting from the coming festival will award the major cinema prizes in the Israeli competition.

Festival Co-director Yigal Molad-Hayo says that he was in contact with Wolgin during the past four years, before his death, and Wolgin had promised to continue to support the festival in Jerusalem. However, says Molad-Hayo, "Unfortunately, the necessary arrangements were not made for the prize to continue to be awarded annually after his death. The moment he passed away we were left to the discretion of his heirs, and as of this time it appears there will not be a continuation of the Wolgin Award. Therefore we have acted to find a suitable replacement."

The family of American-Italian film producer Robert Nissim Haggiag, who passed away in February of 2009 in Rome, wanted to perpetuate his memory. The connection was made between the family and festival through Jerusalem Foundation mediation. The Haggiag family's donation to the festival this year amounts to NIS 200,000, which will be used to produce the Israeli competition and to award prizes to participating films: a prize of NIS 110,000 for the best full-length feature film and prizes for best actor, best actress, editing and music - each of NIS 10,000.

Haggiag was born in Tripoli, Libya. In 1913 he emigrated to Italy and began making films in the 1940s. Over the years he was involved in producing and financing about 50 films, including Hollywood movies such as "Beat the Devil" directed by John Huston in 1954 and starring Humphrey Bogart, "The Barefoot Contessa" from that same year starring Bogart and Ava Gardner, "Legend of the Lost" three years later starring Sophia Loren and John Wayne and "El Cid" in 1961, in which Loren appeared alongside Charlton Heston.

Because Wolgin's contribution amounted to NIS 350,00 annually, the festival has raised an additional donation from the Van Leer Group Foundation, which has been supporting various activities of the Jerusalem Cinematheque over the years, back from the time it was run by Lia Van Leer, the founder of both the cinematheque and the festival.