About two years after announcing a new international film festival, and having invested NIS 600,000 in it and then canceled the whole thing a few months later, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality has decided to hold an International Jewish Film Festival.
It is scheduled to open on October 28, 2004, and the new week-long event is to be headed by actress Gila Almagor, who holds the culture and arts portfolio on the city council, and who was also slated to head the prior festival. The new one is a cooperative effort with the Steven Spielberg Film Archive in Jerusalem and will be named for Jerry Lewis, who is to be the event's first guest of honor.
The new festival, to be held at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and the adjacent Eshkolot Pais auditorium, will screen some 60 films, all produced since 2000, in two frameworks, a Panorama section and a competition for feature films, television dramas and documentaries. The municipality is funding the event, along with the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund. "The Jewish world has diverse components aside from the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," says the festival's artistic director, Gadi Kastel, a former director of outreach for the Kibbutz Movement, who has also worked in the production of nature and travel films around the world. "The artistic selection will be based on quality, but we will also stress general Jewish areas, like Jewish humor, Jewish communities worldwide, and things unique to Judaism."
The festival will not be taking place in a vacuum: Israel already has two annual international film festivals: one in Jerusalem, one in Haifa. There is even a film festival dedicated solely to Jewish films, at the cinematheque in Jerusalem, but it enjoys only limited success.
On the question of whether there's room for another one, the new festival's general manager, Oded Guy, a former producer with Israel Television, says: "There's no Jewish film festival in Jerusalem. There are screenings of films, that's all. I'm not in competition with them, but what they screen there just isn't a festival."
According to Guy, "We aren't interested in the origins of the artists, only in the subjects of the films. There are about 100 international Jewish film festivals now, most of them local, and we intend to use the cream of the crop from those."
Nor is Guy deterred by the city's unpleasant experience with the international film festival organized about two years ago, which was then canceled due to the security situation and the organizers' failure to attract artists from abroad, despite a substantial financial investment. "I'm not up on the details of the death in utero of that festival," he says. "We haven't looked into it, and it's not our concern. I'm sure that our festival is well on the way - we're already past the point of no return," he says.
Tel Aviv is the natural home for a Jewish film festival, says Guy. "We think that the city's thoroughly secular character will emphasize the cultural and artistic dimension of the films we screen, without their automatically being linked to the Jewish religion. The Tel Aviv Cinematheque is the father of secularism, the natural home for a little Yiddishkeit."
Israel Film Council director Pony Brzezinski, however, is rather worried about the founding of this new festival. By law, the council must provide a budget for film festivals that are less than two years old and that meet certain minimum criteria.
The council is currently supporting several other festivals, including the Jewish Film Festival in Jerusalem (in 2001, it received a budget of NIS 292,000; in 2002, NIS 77,000). With the entry of a new festival, warns Brzezinski, all the others could see their budgets reduced.
"The establishment of every film festival should be scrutinized," she says. "It can't be that all of them will rely on a budgetary pie that never - at least not in the next five years - gets any bigger. It will only shrink the slice that each event receives, and they'll all suffer."
The Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality has still not decided how much it will be investing in the festival, but people close to the production claim that it will be around NIS 500,000 and half of that in kind, which means advertising, office space, and the like.
Nor has the JNF yet decided how much it plans to invest, but the cooperative effort will extend to free access for the festival's artistic managers to JNF archives, screening of JNF films before each of the festival's entries, and a special screening of a Jewish-Zionist film in the Ben Shemen Forest for 2,000 people. The Jewish Agency says that discussions are now underway with the festival management as to the nature and extent of the agency's support.