Why I’m Not Bribing Woody Allen to Shoot a Movie in Israel

Allen has defined the image of the 'Jew' for our generation, but the way he has defined the image of 'Jewish woman' hasn’t done me great favors.

I live in Israel, and I’m happy to see it improve its international image as much as anyone else. I also happen to enjoy excellent films, including great Woody Allen movies. Like much of my 40-something generation, classics like Annie Hall and Manhattan were huge cultural influences on me, and I have seen them over and over. While I don’t religiously go to every single movie he churns out annually, when one of them gets good word of mouth and sounds like it is worth seeing, I’m there. I think I count as a fan.

So why wouldn’t I pull out my wallet and jump aboard the new project launched by Rob Eshman of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, pitched so charmingly on YouTube by the beautiful Israeli actress and producer Noa Tishby?

The goal of Eshman’s initiative, The Woody Allen Israel Project is to raise $9 million in investments to help convince Allen shoot his next movie in Israel.

Eshman turned to the Jewish ‘crowd-sourcing’ platform Jewcer to collect funds, insisting that “everybody who cares about great movies, and about Israel,” should give at least a few dollars. This is his pitch:

"Woody Allen makes one movie a year. And, according to what he’s told The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and LA Weekly, he makes it in England, Spain, France or Italy because that, as they say, is where the money is. “Match Point,” which came out in 2005, originally was set in Long Island and Palm Beach. Then the English offered to pay the costs if he shot it in London.
“From then on,” Allen said, “other countries call up and invite me to make movies, which is great, because they don’t invite me in the United States. What happens in Europe, in South America, in China, in Russia — all these countries call and say, ‘Would you make a movie here if we financed it?’”
You can see where we're going with this, right? There is something powerful and indelible about movies that transcends news and politics. And all it would take to get him to immortalize Israel is a paltry $18 million. That’s what an Allen movie costs. A work of art - did we neglect to mention he is the Chaplin of our time, the greatest living filmmaker in the world? - That will enable Israel to enter the world’s imagination in a way so different from the headlines.
All Allen asks for is funding, and complete control over his project. As far as I know, Allen himself has never been to Israel. For a man who has done much to define the image of “Jew” in our time, this needs repair. We can’t imagine what will result when Woody Allen meets Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, but then again - that’s why we want to pay to find out."

Would we really pay to find out, beyond buying ticket to such a movie? I wouldn’t.

Let’s count the reasons why:

1. First and foremost, there are a lot of causes asking for my hard-earned money - there are political causes, there are incredible charities that can save lives, feed the starving and protect the endangered, there’s the guy who begs for change on the corner. Would I really choose to direct my limited funds to a multi-millionaire filmmaker to make his bazillionth movie no matter where he filmed it?

2. The project presents itself, tongue and cheek, as a Birthright trip for Woody Allen. Come on. The guy is 76 years old and it’s not just that he hasn’t had the opportunity to ever visit Israel. He’s deliberately chosen not to come to Israel, even though he has a huge fan base here, his films have opened festivals here, and I’m sure been offered enough funding by Jewish moguls to cover the private jet that would whisk him straight to the Presidential Suite at the King David Hotel. No interest, despite the fact, as Eshman points out, he’s been happy to go almost anywhere else. So it’s up to ME to bribe him to come?

3. What has Woody Allen ever done for me? Let’s leave aside politics and the tantrum he threw on the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times at the outbreak of the intifada in 1988, chiding Israel for making him look bad, when he cried: "My goodness! Are these the people whose money I used to steal from those little blue-and-white cans after collecting funds for a Jewish homeland?"

Naturally, the BDS crew is already out in force lobbying Woody to refuse the Eshman offer so they can claim it as a victory for the Israeli boycott. One blogger asks “Woody, how do you feel about being bribed with millions of dollars by Israeli government agents to sacrifice your artistic integrity as propaganda for their apartheid state? Would it not be more ingenious to develop a movie satirizing Israel’s desperate attempts to obscure its crimes against humanity?”

And let’s even leave aside my rather strong opinions on Allen’s infamous personal follies in the 1990’s, involving Mia Farrow and her brood, and the notorious nude pictures of her adopted daughter who is now Allen’s wife. The heart wants what the heart wants - but yuck.

What I don’t leave aside; I can’t help but hesitate at the backbone of Eshman’s argument, his statement that Allen is “a man who has done much to define the image of “Jew” in our time.”

I can understand why neurotic middle-aged Jewish men everywhere would be grateful that Woody Allen branded them as funny and sexy. But to be frank, the way he’s ‘defined the image’ of “Jewish woman” hasn’t done me any great favors.

In film after film, the women with Jewish characteristics are the shrewish unattractive controlling ones, usually discarded, who stand as preludes to his protagonists’ romance with a string of young (in the case of Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan, very young) shiksa goddesses. Yes, true, he is following in a grand Hollywood tradition and who knows - he may even have even been aware that Scarlett Johansson was Jewish when he cast her in the blond goddess roles. But that’s no excuse for the fact that in his long, long, list of films, there is not even one vaguely Semitic-looking heroine and plenty of stereotypical Jewish shrews and crazies, while all of his heroes are almost always Allen-esque Jewish guys (or WASPS like Owen Wilson trying hard to act like one.)

Even if by some chance, Allen did come to Israel to shoot the film that Eshman yearns for, you can bet it would be about some hapless American Jewish guy romping through some quirky adventure in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem chasing after a lovely blonde foreign correspondent for an American news network, with a loud Jewish mother or ex-wife on the phone nagging him to come home to Brooklyn.

There is only one element of the campaign that might convince me to contribute. Eshman writes that if the campaign fails to come up with $9 million then “with any unused funds, Tribe Media Corp. creates a Jewcer Israel Film Fund that seeds independent film projects in Israel via Jewcer.”

Israel is bursting with cinematic talent - evidenced by its recent spate of Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language film. There are, sadly, far too few funds to support the number of worthy productions. And we could always use more young and talented foreign filmmakers coming to Israel to tell its stories as well.

The Israel Film Fund is a cause I could get behind. The cause of paying off Woody Allen to do us a favor and grace Israel with his presence, after shunning it for nearly eight decades?

Not so much.