Opinion

Israel Culture Minister's Bid to Increase Cinema Budget Raises Disturbing Questions

A new government-funded movie-making plan could contribute to the oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank

A film crew from Chuan Films shoots footage of Chinese actors on the set of "The Old Cinderella" at the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall in Jerusalem, Israel, on Friday, April 19, 2013
Bloomberg

There are several dangerous ideas along with several intriguing ones in the draft of recommendations of the committee set up to propose reforms in government support for film, which was established by Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev.

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The recommendation to increase the cinema budget from 80 million to 100 million shekels ($22 million to $27.5 million) annually, for example, makes it clear that the committee members don’t aspire to destroy Israeli cinema – one of the Israel’s most successful cultural exports and one which miraculously succeeds in creating a positive attitude toward Israel even during periods of harsh international criticism.

Also praiseworthy is the decision regarding the budget for establishing new cinema foundations. This funding must come from an external source rather than from the film production budget. The recommendation to simplify the criteria for support indicates that the committee members are aware of the superfluous complexity of the criteria, which are spread over 40 pages of cumbersome legalese.

The recommendation to establish a foundation bypass route, which will enable the awarding of compensation after-the-fact to films that were successful at the box office, constitutes an important attempt to encourage profitable commercial cinema, and not only art films. It was good to discover that the committee – which was established as a result of mudslinging between the minister and the filmmakers, and aroused strong fears among the latter – has proposed several interesting ideas, and didn’t issue a document of recommendations that would lead to the total destruction of the film industry.

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Even the proposal to establish three regional film foundations, one in Judea and Samaria, is interesting and is likely to lead to new and fresh points of view that are missing in Israeli cinema. Yes, even avowed leftists can find something of interest in a film made from the point of view of a determined hilltop girl with passionate ideology. A film about the settlers’ leaders could be fascinating – as was proven recently by the first episode in the television series “The Right to Shout” by Uri Rosenwaks (which presented the story of the Gush Emunim settler movement, among other things).

But a perusal of the document also raises a disturbing question: What about the filmmakers who are unable to benefit from the regional foundation to be established right under their noses? We can count on Minister Regev to make sure that the support provided by the foundation in Judea and Samaria will be limited to Israeli citizens, without a cent going to the Palestinians living in that region.

In that case, the foundation would become the cinematic counterpart of the apartheid roads that bisect the areas of the West Bank – a foundation for Jews only. The Palestinian neighbors of the filmmakers who receive support will be limited to gawking at the sight of the film crews who will pop up on every hill. We can only hope that the new artistic preoccupation of the hilltop youth will take up enough of their time so as to perhaps lead to a few less “price tag” attacks.

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Those who may benefit from the recommendations will be the Palestinians living in the Galilee and the Bedouin in the Negev, who may finally be able to tell their own stories rather than being dependent on the good graces of the Jews from the center of the country.

And still, many questions remain unanswered. Will these foundations support only films by residents of the region? Or perhaps like the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which was mentioned in the document as a model to emulate, they will invite filmmakers from all over the world to receive support, on condition that they tell a story that takes place in the region?

And what will happen in such a case to the residents of the region, who will once again see others receiving the film budgets? And will a specific film be able to receive support from one of the general foundations in addition to the regional one? That would mean it would be the beneficiary of double public funding, so how can this problem be solved?

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These questions are particularly disturbing when we examine the paragraph in the document concerning the selection of individuals who will be asked to read scripts and assess their cinematic potential. The committee is expected to recommend that from now on these reviewers be appointed directly by the culture minister.

The committee members claim that that is the custom in properly administered countries like the Netherlands and France, and that it will help to prevent a conflict of interests stemming from the dependence of these reviewers on the foundations. Despite that, political intervention in the process of appointing the film reviewers is liable to be a dangerous thing. And when we read later in the document that “the reviewers will be intellectuals and cultural figures, not only film people, to reduce the phenomenon of ‘an exclusive club’” – the unease only increases.

Not only will the film reviewers be appointed in a political fashion, they will also be people who lack a minimal understanding of film, who will be asked to read scripts and to assess their cinematic potential. It’s not certain that these are the people who should choose which films will reach our screens and make decisions that involve the expenditure of tens of millions of shekels in public funds.