Israeli Cinematic History Thrown Out on the Curb

After death of famous Israeli film producer, family throws reams of classic films out on Tel Aviv street; antique dealers and collectors swoop on treasures 'like vultures'.

Central Tel Aviv offered a strange scene Monday: Hundreds of metal canisters holding old celluloid films sat at the corner where the Mugrabi Cinema used to be. Some of the canisters were rusty, others were falling apart.

"People were swooping in like vultures on a carcass," said Ben Buchenbacher, a painter who works next door at the corner of Allenby and Ben Yehuda. "Antique dealers and collectors almost came to blows."

The commotion had already died down by the time a reporter arrived. Standing nearby confused was Haya Cohen. The films and posters had belonged to her uncle, Asfir Sasson, a well-known producer.

Sasson owned a movie production company called Sratei Sasson (Sasson Films), the name that accompanied a title on every canister. Sasson produced films such as "Rotze'ah Sakhir" ("Hired Killer"), "Hasatan Haya Malakh" ("Satan Was An Angel") and "7 Nashim Erotiot" ("7 Erotic Women").

"That was his world," said Cohen. A few months earlier, Sasson was injured in a traffic accident in Ramat Gan and died on October 7. Sasson never married and had no children. "He lived with his sister in Ramat Gan until his dying day," Cohen said.

After Sasson's death, his family emptied out the office he rented in Tel Aviv and put its contents, including the films and posters, out on the curb.

Alon Garbuz, director of the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, also arrived at the corner. "I tried to arrange for a truck to come by and take the whole pile to the archive at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, but today of all days a truck wasn't available," he said.

Even if a truck had arrived, it's not clear the films could have been saved; many had been damaged. "The technical quality of the films was poor," said Garbuz.

"[Sasson] mainly produced B movies Indian and Turkish styles, melodramas, kid flicks, Russian movies and Westerns," said Garbuz. "He was a really nice man who lived mostly off screenings in the country's outskirts; small communities and cinemas, not from films screened in Tel Aviv."

From time to time one of his movies would be screened at the Cinematheque, if that, he said.

"People often call me and I come by to collect films," said Garbuz, who knew Sasson for 40 years. "In this case it appears the family didn't know me or whom to call. It's a sad story."

Daniel Bar-On