Will Israeli Cinema Soon Be Scouting for More Arabs and ultra-Orthodox?

Proposed law would earmark a quarter of annual film budget to the periphery.

A bill earmarking 25 percent of the country's filmmaking budget to the periphery will be considered today by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. The heads of Israel's film industry are outraged by the proposed law, branding it "populistic" and "redundant."

Hanin Zuabi (Balad) and Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi)
Emil Salman

The bill, sponsored by MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi ), would oblige the authorities to direct a quarter of the state's film budget to moviemakers "belonging to cultural groups that are not appropriately represented in cinema."

"The Film Law has brought about a dramatic change in the quality and success of Israeli cinema both in Israel and around the world," the proposal states. "But the law has failed to fulfill its purpose in one area - there is still a large gap between the sparsity of filmmakers from the social and cultural periphery (religious people, new immigrants, ultra-Orthodox, Arabs, and those residing in slums and development towns ) and the high percentage of filmmakers from the cultural center."

If the bill is approved, a quarter of the NIS 67 million annual film budget will be allotted to such filmmakers from the periphery.

According to the wording of the proposed bill, its intention is to "reflect the diverse cultures, viewpoints and values within Israeli society," as stipulated in the Film Law. If Orbach's proposal is enacted, the money will be allocated by the culture and sports minister, after consulting with the Israel Film Council.

Israel Film Council chairman Micha Harish blasted the bill, which he called redundant. "The concern for the periphery is justified, but the problem is not financial - it's about work programs," he said.

Harish added that two Film Council panels have been working for several months on the issue, examining ways to encourage and promote cinema in the periphery.

"If you don't know what to do with the money, this could lead to a bureaucracy. We want to ensure that the money actually helps advance the periphery, not other things," he said.

Israel Film Fund director Katriel Schory also objects to the bill. "In other places in the world, attempts to earmark money for a particular group have failed miserably," he said. "In England, for example, they found that the earmarked money had to be spent, whether there were worthy projects or not. So on more than one occasion, sums were wasted on nothing... In Israel, the film funds decide which movies to support on the basis of the projects' cinematic values. These are the only considerations that must guide them."

Schory added that the film funds already support features and documentaries that represent the periphery.

"Anyone who looks into the funds' handling of the periphery is in for a big surprise," he said. "The desire to reflect the broad public, with its various and diverse groups, is part of the funds' DNA. So why tie our hands with percentages? We've already made countless lists and proven that large sums are being invested in the periphery. Movies have long left the Sheinkin Street area and its surroundings. That's part of the reason for the success of Israeli films - most don't deal with ... the Tel Aviv area."