The Reel Thing: New Online Film Archive Launches in Israel

Thousands of hours of Israeli movies and historic footage are now publicly available for free, courtesy of the Israel Film Archive

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"They Were Ten" by Baruch Dienar.
"They Were Ten" by Baruch Dienar.

The Israel Film Archive on Monday launched a new website, incorporating thousands of hours of local movies as well as historic film clips, some of them quite rare.

The website (jfc.org.il) was built as part of a digitization project the archive began five years ago, in an attempt to create digital copies of the films in its possession and to save the material from being lost.

“We have a treasure downstairs in a medium that’s very accessible to people – movies,” says Hila Avraham, head of the archive’s digital division in Jerusalem.

She says the project has two objectives: preservation; and making the materials more accessible. “We’d like to make as much material as possible freely accessible,” she notes.

The new website has two sections. One is the historical part, which contains filed footage of pre-state and post-1948 periods, from the earliest days of settlement up to the 1960s.

The second part is the artistic section, containing hundreds of fiction and documentary films, both feature-length and shorts.

The historical section boasts a wide range of old newsreels, such as the Carmel newsreels that were produced by Nathan Axelrod and Geva Studios.

The physical film archive at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.Credit: Emil Salman

Chimps and fashion shows

In addition to reports of wars and terror attacks, you can also see footage of events such as the official opening of the chimpanzee wing at Tel Aviv Zoo in 1954, attended by then-Mayor Haim Levanon; a bathing costume fashion show from 1956, showing models emerging from cars and walking to the beach in Herzliya; the opening of the 1938 bathing season in Tel Aviv, displaying a corn-on-the-cob stand, a boy and dog playing at the beach and a group of young men doing calisthenics there.

You can also witness the production of soft drinks under the Crystal brand at the Tavori company’s factory in Pardes Hannah, in 1958; a shooting competition using hunting rifles, in Haifa in 1937; the launching of the Hagalil Beer factory in Migdal Ha’emek in 1963; and the inauguration of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway line in 1949, attended by then-Transportation Minister David Remez.

The collection also includes films that were deposited in the archive by various institutions, such as the Israel Film Service and Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial center).

Among the clips available for viewing are advertisements for Dr. V laundry soap, from 1961; for Heinkel motor scooters, from 1964; and for a nighttime tour of Eilat, offered in 1963 by Arkia Airlines.

The website lets you conduct searches based on themes, decades and people.

For example, when you type in Moshe Dayan, you can view the former chief of staff and defense minister visiting a Gadna military base in 1954, or see him at the sixth Independence Day celebrations in Ramle the same year, as well as during the establishment of Kibbutz Hanita in 1938.

When you search for Beba Idelson, you can see the Zionist activist and lawmaker at the opening of an exhibition of female artists in 1960, at a national WIZO conference in 1957 and at a demonstration against the British government’s White Paper in 1945.

The artistic section contains 250 movies so far, including “They Were Ten” by Baruch Dienar, “El Dorado” by Menahem Golan, “Gay Days” by Yair Qedar, “Afula Express” by Julie Shles and “This is Sodom” by Muli Segev and Adam Sanderson. The list also includes rare films such as works by Raquel Chalfi.

The Israel Film Archive, which is not officially a national archive but nevertheless functions as one, has 30,000 items in its possession.

These span 4,500 hours of content, or 2 million meters (6.5 million feet) of film, including audio-visual material from 1896 to the present day. In its 40 years of operations, it has served mainly cultural institutions, creative artists and researchers, but was not accessible to the general public.

The digitization project also included the establishment of a professional lab for transferring film to a digital format.

Jerusalem Cinematheque’s CEO, Noa Regev, says the digital project could lead to the discovery of unknown treasures. Along with technical and budgetary problems, they also had to contend with copyright issues.

For now, the way the digital archive works is based on a model that’s profitable for both sides. “We offer free digitization for the creators of these films, in exchange for making them accessible to the public,” Avraham says.

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