Israeli Cinema Gets a (Screening) Room of Its Own

Six cinema artists have joined forces, with the blessing of the Tel Aviv municipality, to launch a nonprofit venture that will support Israeli filmmaking and filmmakers, and screen only locally made movies.

Neta Alexander
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Neta Alexander

When director Uri Bar-On ‏(“72 Virgins,” “King Lati the First”‏) lived in France in 2006, he had a revelation.

“As an artist and cinephile,” he says now, “I went to the movies a lot; every week I sought out interesting films. At a certain stage I realized that in Paris at any given moment more Israeli films are showing than in Israel. I thought this was absurd and then I started thinking how to change this situation, in which there are more worthy films and audiences eager to see them, but not enough places to provide adequate exposure.”

Several years have passed since then, Bar-On came back to Israel and started working on his film, “10% My Child,” and as happens with revelations, the Parisian experience was forgotten.

“When I started working on my movie, I didn’t have time to think about anything else. But when I finished shooting and began to think about distribution here, I personally experienced the feeling that there are a lot of local films here and not enough screening venues,” he says, “and that’s basically was the beginning of Kipod − a home for Israeli film, which is meant to become a venue for exclusively screening local products.”

Luckily for Bar-On, his idea fit the Social Lab on 9 Mazeh Street like a glove. The lab is a relatively new venture, started by the Tel Aviv municipality, which provides personal, continuous support to people who seek to transform somewhat far-fetched business proposals into a reality that can benefit the community.

“To my delight,” says Bar-On, “the municipality took the project under its wing and sent me to an entrepreneurship course where we prepared a detailed business plan and formed the startup team.”

This team included, in addition to Bar-On, five local directors and artists: cinematographer Daniel Kedem ‏(“Life in Stills,” “The Garden of Eden”‏); director Yanai Goz ‏(“Alenbi Romance,” “Yoter Ity Mi’Lev”‏); producer Shalom Goodman ‏(“Kamtei Zehok”‏); director Yonatan Dovek; and editor and direct Noit Geva ‏(“The Key”‏), who is also a former artistic director of the New Israel Film Fund.

In a joint interview with Haaretz, they present their vision and insist that local cinema indeed does deserve its own special space.

Why actually create a space to screen Israeli films only? Is there not a danger that such a place will turn into a ghetto of sorts that cuts off the local scene from a broader context?

Bar-On: “On the contrary, the idea is to be a hothouse and not a ghetto. I want every tourist who visits Israel to know there is a place where he can experience Israeli films, and for every artist to understand that there is a new home for him where he can get constructive criticism on a rough-cut or early versions of his film. There are enough other places that screen foreign films.”

And you believe that such a place can be profitable?

“The idea is not to get rich or become millionaires, but to create a space that maintains itself. To that end, we set up a nonprofit organization and we have a serious business plan that will enable us to be not dependent on income from ticket sales. Accordingly, ticket prices for evening screenings will be considerably less expensive than regular movie tickets and will sell for around NIS 25, including a beer. At the same time, we will have many free events, such as chats with artists, lectures and screenings of classics and films that are still being worked on. The idea is not just to open another screening venue in Tel Aviv, but to create a center for creative endeavor.”

Asked if there is no danger that Kipod ‏(which means “hedgehog,” in Hebrew‏) will quickly become an insider’s place intended for the small community of Tel Aviv filmmakers, all those involved quickly rule out this possibility.

According to Daniel Kedem, “It’s important for us to stress that this isn’t a members-only club. It is a stage and meeting place meant to encourage the Israeli film culture both among the people making films and the general public. One of our main goals is to establish a dialogue between the filmmakers and the audience, and to be a focal point for encounters that combine watching films as well as discussion.”

Yanai Goz: “There are two complementary trends here: on one hand, a growing number of people are interested in Israeli film, on the other hand, filmmakers who have no place where they can meet. That is why we want to create an incubator for creativity. Musicians, for example, can meet in studios or rehearsal rooms, but filmmakers have no such place. At the same time, it’s important to us to show old and new films, and make interesting connections between them. There are many films looking for an audience and the connection can be made only if they have an appropriate space committed to this.”

It seems that the people behind Kipod have particularly good timing. Independent Israeli filmmaking is continuing a creative surge that started a few years ago with low-budget movies such as Goz’s “Alenbi Romance”; Danny Lerner’s “Frozen Days”; and Yair Hochner’s “Good Boys.” The considerable increase in the number of such films made here received official recognition with the Israel Academy of Film’s creation of a special Ophir Award category for low-budget films, as well as the Haifa and Cinema South Festivals decision to showcase fringe films.

“The chairman of the Israel Academy of Film and Television, Marek Rosenbaum, recently said that we will soon reach the point when 100 new dramas are being released each year,” says Bar-On. “Where exactly will all of them be shown? And these figures don’t include documentary or experimental films.”

Still, why is there a need for another theater in Tel Aviv, where there are already quite a few alternative screening venues with a noncommercial feel, such as Beit Ha’am, on Rothschild Boulevard, Hayarkon 70, the Third Ear halls and the Cinematheque?

Kedem: “The idea is to create a model in the hope that if it works in Tel Aviv it will spread in the future to other cities in Israel as well. “At a later stage, it will be possible to open similar branches in all kinds of places.”

“Apart from that, the periphery is built into the working plan with Kipod having a virtual presence: The events there will be documented on video and in text form in order to establish a dialogue that reaches beyond the physical space. Clips from the films will be accessible on the project’s website; we will upload lectures and try to distribute the content in as many ways as possible. We are also considering the option of roaming screenings, similar to the ‘roving film bus’ that recently operated at the International Festival of Student Films.”

And why not collaborate with one of the existing venues instead of investing funds in building a new space?

Bar-On: “We have no commercial interest and therefore we’re not competing with anyone. We’ll be happy to collaborate with anyone who wants to promote Israeli film, from directors to producers. But we believe there is both room and a need for an additional, unique space that will be designed differently and address other needs.”

In order for Kipod to be different and to create a warm, communal atmosphere, the initiators of the project stress, the screening venue will be different from the standard cinemas in Israel: Instead of uniform rows of seats, it will have an open space with sofas, lounge chairs and recliners scattered around, which will allow around 100 people to watch a movie while sipping a beer or enjoying food from the adjacent snack bar ‏(the income from which is part of the venture’s business plan‏).

In this respect, the new project is part of a growing international trend of microcinemas, which offer a more relaxed, homelike viewing experience and have an artistic and not commercial agenda. Like similar venues in cities such as New York or Berlin, Kipod will also have a meeting room, where it will be possible to develop projects, and an editing room. According to Kedem, the quality of the screening is an essential element of the group’s commitment to local cinema: “Our goal is to achieve the highest possible standard of screening.”

Will you invest in 8mm or 16mm projectors?

Kedem: “No, at least not in the first stage. We are focusing on quality digital screening and will deal with the challenge of archive material. Happily for us, there is a huge amount of archive material that has been digitized.”

Diverse agenda

The plan uploaded to the project’s temporary site ‏(‏) indicates that Kipod’s artistic agenda is very diverse and includes, among other things, screenings of “the best of Avraham Heffner’s children’s films,” a conversation with historian-writer Dr. Gadi Taub on adapting books for television, a roundtable discussion that will attempt to answer the question of “Is ‘But Where is Daniel Wax?’ the greatest Israeli film of all times?” and an exhibition on new cinematic technology.

Bar-On: “The idea is to screen everything, from the Zev Revah film festival to Ayelet Zorrer and avant-garde cinema. We aren’t only interested in films with slow-moving characters where nothing happens, although there is also a place for such films.”

Will you also show controversial political films, such as “Jenin, Jenin”?

Bar-On: “We will show anything that is considered ‘Israeli film’ and as far as I’m concerned ‘Jenin, Jenin’ definitely meets that definition, as do the films of Moshe Ze’evi [a right-wing film maker who directed, “Armand’s Kites,” about a pilot who is summoned to carry out targeted assassinations in Gaza].”

Goodman: “I, for one, would like to show Middle Eastern films from the 1970s and 1980s that the film academy completely overlooked. There are some amazing filmmakers who did not receive enough recognition, such as George Ovadia or Moshe Mizrahi, who in the end also left Israel because his work was ignored.”

Bar-On and his partners in the venture are now considering several potential spaces in Tel Aviv, and if there are no unforeseen delays, the new cinema will open in the coming months. In addition to organizing screenings and lectures, they also hope to collaborate with film courses in high schools, communal institutions and cinema schools.

According to Michael Vole, of the Tel Aviv municipality’s young adults department, who is assisting with the project on behalf of Mazeh 9, “the municipality took the project under its auspices not because there is a need for another cinema, but because of its communal orientation. The goal is to encourage and bring in young people who have the DNA of cultural creativity in Israel, and to provide them with a place for ‘orphaned’ films − the kind that currently have no place where they can be screened.”

In the spacious meeting room on the third floor of Mazeh 9, where the joint interview took place, it is hard not to be infected by the optimism of the five young artists, all in their 30s ‏(Geva, the sixth member of the team and the only woman, could not make it to the interview‏). For one, Kedem says he is convinced that it will be possible to draw several dozen viewers to see Israeli films every day. “Even if 40 people and not 100 people come in the beginning, that will be an achievement,” he says.

Bar-On nods and continues, “We don’t want to be an underground or insider place, but a warm and accessible space. It’s important to us that Israeli film finally have a place to call home, and that everyone feel welcome there.”

Behind the Kipod venture, from left: Uri Bar-On, Shalom Goodman, Yonatan Dovek, Yanai Goz and Daniel Kedem. “The idea is to create a center for creative endeavor,” says Bar-On.Credit: Daniel Bar-On
A scene from Bar-On’s “King Lati the First.”Credit: Daniel Bar-On
A scene from Tamar Tal’s 'Life in Stills' shot by Daniel Kedem.Credit: Neta Alexander