At Cannes Film Festival, Israeli Minister Touts Country as 'Cinematic Powerhouse'

At launch of official pavilion, Miri Regev aims clichés at encouraging foreign film firms to work with Israeli companies and film movies in the country.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev cutting the ribbon at the inauguration ceremony of the official Israeli pavilion at the 69th Cannes Film Festival, on May 16, 2016.
Lucian Paul Wright

CANNES, France – Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev launched Israel’s official pavilion at the 69th Cannes Film Festival Monday afternoon. Prior to her arrival, the head of the ministry’s Culture Administration, Galit Wahba Shasho, praised Regev for coming up with the idea of the formal pavilion, which takes the form of a booth located amid a row of similar booths, next to China’s and not far from that of Lebanon. Wahba Shasho also didn’t neglect to point out, every time she mentioned the minister’s name, that Regev is a brigadier general in the army reserves – and she called Israel “our beloved country.” So I knew what to expect.

Because the Israeli pavilion is small and slightly suffocating – emblematic of “our beloved country?” – those who attended the inaugural ceremony stood outside, sweating in the hot afternoon sun. Before the event, peanuts and dates were served. A few dozen invitees were present, of whom I could identify only a small fraction.

At the start of the ceremony, the deputy mayor of Cannes delivered a greeting. He even managed a few sentences in Hebrew, to the applause of the crowd. He was followed by the chief rabbi of France, who spoke only in French.

Regev began her speech by thanking the various funds and other groups that have managed Israeli pavilions in the past, some under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry’s department of cultural and scientific relations. There is also such a booth this year, alongside the official one. The minister declared this a historic occasion, because the Israeli flag was flying at Cannes, she praised Israel’s cinematic oeuvre, described film as the country’s best ambassador since it connects people and nations, and termed the Jewish state a “cinematic powerhouse.”

The expected clichés flowed as freely as the sweat. Israel’s beauty, Regev continued, lies in its contrasts – between left and right (yes, really), secular and religious, Jews and Arabs – and the country is greater than the sum of its parts. She mentioned the Galilee and the Negev, and described Israel as “the most beautiful, fascinating location in the world.”

All this was aimed at encouraging foreign film companies to engage in joint ventures with Israeli companies and to film their movies in Israel. If there were any message in Regev’s speech, it was that she would work to ease the taxes that make it hard for foreign entities to do that.

The minister also sent condolences to the families of those killed in terror attacks in France and elsewhere in Europe, and wished those injured a speedy recovery. Nor did she forget to mention Israel's Ronit Elkabetz, describing her as a larger-than-life woman, actress and filmmaker, and she urged those present to sign the booth’s memorial book for Elkabetz, who died last month.

After the ceremony, Regev climbed the stairs to the hall where a festive screening of Jeff Nichols’ film “Loving” was about to take place. Nichols’ film, which is entered in the competition, tells the story of a white man who married a black woman in the American South in the late 1950s, in defiance of a law that forbade interracial marriages. After a lengthy legal battle, their case eventually reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor and overturned the law.

Granted, the choice of the movie was mere happenstance, if the minister actually did watch it. But it was an interesting choice nonetheless.