Helga Keller, Leading Israeli Film Editor and Educator, Dies

After working on two Shakespeare movie adaptations for Laurence Olivier, Keller immigrated to Israel and became a leading film educator.

Nirit Anderman
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Nirit Anderman

Israeli film editor and educator Helga Keller died on Friday at Ichilov Hospital, Tel Aviv, aged 91. Keller was a highly respected editor and latterly an active figure in Israeli film education.

In the 1940s and ‘50s she edited two Shakespeare adaptations by the great British actor Laurence Olivier: “Hamlet” and “Richard III" (1948 and 1955, respectively). Keller’s funeral was held Sunday at the New Cemetery in Herzliya.

Keller was born Helga Cranston, to a family of Jewish artists in Berlin, in 1921. At the age of 18 she immigrated to England with her family. She studied at a graphics school in London and afterward began working as a film editor.

The second film on which she served as chief editor was Olivier’s “Hamlet,” which won four Academy Awards, including the Oscar for Best Film. Olivier also hired her to edit his next movie, “Richard III.” This was also received great acclaim, garnering, among other awards, the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. It also earned Olivier an Oscar nomination for best actor.

After her work with Olivier, she edited two films by Otto Preminger, “Saint Joan” (1957) and “Bonjour Tristesse” ((1958.

Keller immigrated to Israel in 1958, with the aim of helping the local film industry develop. During her first years here, she directed short documentary films for the Jewish Agency and continued to work as a film editor.

Some of the films she edited included “They were 10” (1961) directed by Baruch Diener; the animated film “Joseph the Dreamer” (1962), by Yoram and Alina Gross; and “The Simhon Family” (1964) directed by Joel Zilberg.

After retiring from hands-on work in the film industry, in the 1970s Keller turned to academia and began to teach in the film department at Tel Aviv University. Shortly after, she moved to the education department and began to work in the area of cinema education.

In 1975 she wrote and edited the book “Screen World” (in Hebrew), an anthology bringing together interviews with, and articles about, the great directors among them Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Luis Bunuel and Michelangelo Antonioni, along with essays by the most important film theorists.

Over the years the book has served as an essential Hebrew resource for film students.

Keller moved to the Education Ministry in 1989, where she wrote a curriculum in the areas of film and the media. She served there as coordinator for the fields of cinema and media education in Israeli schools, until her retirement in 1992.

She subsequently wrote a number of books, among them “Knowing How to Watch,” a teachers’ guide to film studies that is still in use in the education system. She was married to the late jazz musician Mel Keller and leaves one daughter.

Helga Keller pictured in 2008.Credit: Rafi Coates
A scene from the 1961 Baruch Diener film 'They were 10.'

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