Behind Israel's Silver Screen

James Journey to Jerusalem Still

The money that led to the creation of "Yossi and Jagger," "Operation Grandma," "Adventures of James in the Holy Land," "My Father, My Lord" and many other movies is about to be wiped off the public funding map if the Israel Film Council institutes its recent recommendations and changes conditions for applicants. It suggests cutting off funds for one-off television dramas completely, and earmarking the NIS 6 million allocated in recent years for other purposes.

A debate about these purposes is now going on in the film industry: Should some of the money be devoted to shorter films, as the film council suggests? Or would it be better to grant funds for the production of full-length, low-budget independent films? Are those who claim that some of the funds must be invested in peripheral areas right, or is justice with those who argue that while television dramas must continue to receive funding, the broadcasting companies should be obligated to provide it?

In the past, single drama productions were defined by the film council as "one-part, made-for-television dramas of at least 20 minutes in duration." Dozens of dramas have been produced this way over the past decade with the support of various film funding and local broadcast bodies, and shown in what are considered high-quality programming slots.

The most memorable were filled by the Hot cable company's "First in Drama" series that broadcast "Operation Grandma," "Yossi and Jagger" and "Silent Alarms"; and "Short Stories about Love," produced by Haggai Levy for Reshet, which also produced "James in the Holy Land," "God's Workers" and "Zakuta."

Over time, individual drama productions gathered a reputation for quality and provided an important opportunity for young filmmakers. They constituted an intermediate step between a short and a full-length film, and enabled many artists to train on relatively long works, without having to do the complex and expensive work of full-length film production. In some cases, excellent one-off dramas went over the accepted length of 50 minutes and in the end were exhibited in theaters as movies in every sense of the word (as with the four films named in the opening paragraph ).

But in recent years broadcasting companies have stopped funding and showing such dramas. They have learned that drama requires a relatively large investment, not only in production but also marketing and advertising, and decided that it was preferable to go in the direction of series that remain on the screen for many weeks. The film council continued to support dramas, but the productions had no broadcast outlets. They often remained on the shelf - there was simply no demand for them.

Now the Israel Film Council is considering cutting off all aid to drama. Instead, it is considering the possibility of investing in a more up-to-date area - shorter, cheaper films that enable the professional training so important to young and veteran artists alike - but fewer of even these.

According to a draft of the new criteria obtained by Haaretz, the fund suggests supporting only three 40-minute dramatic shorts (professional rather than student films, which receive separate funding ) instead of many one-part dramas, and using some of the rest of the drama budget for what are known as "designated" films (involving multiculturalism and artists from outside the major cities ). These recommendations are preliminary ones, not final, and hearings on them have yet to be held. They would apparently be applied only in 2013, but are already arousing disagreements and controversy.

"I think the fund shouldn't make decisions according to the whims of the concessionaires [the companies awarded potentially profitable television production rights]," says Gideon Ganani, director of the Makor Foundation for Israeli Films, which has specialized in supporting drama for many years. "If these concessionaires have no interest in drama, the council can reach an agreement with the public broadcasting channel [the Israel Broadcasting Authority's Channel 1], exactly as the British Film Fund does in Britain. We've reserved regular broadcast slots for these films. What's the problem? After all, one conversation between the minister of culture and the minister in charge of funding the IBA, or between the chairman of the film council and the chairman of the IBA, can solve the problem."

Ganani believes that television screens, and not movie houses, are the natural places for a short film or drama, and it is illogical to limit support to films that are 30 to 40 minutes long. "These are artificial limits. What if someone has a masterpiece that's two or perhaps 50 minutes long? We must enable artists to make films of any length they choose," he says.

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