Play it again, Sam
‘We've got foreign filmmakers coming to Israel to create and develop their new projects, alongside Israelis," says Renen Schorr, founding director of the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School, Jerusalem, of his latest initiative, The Jerusalem International Film Lab. After a complex series of intensive workshops in which 12 hand-picked young filmmakers - six from Israel and six from abroad - worked with international film professionals to write scripts and develop production plans, they will pitch these projects to a jury of producers from around the world at the Jerusalem Film Festival on July 6. The winners of cash grants totaling more than $100,000 will be announced at a ceremony on July 7.
Schorr calls the jury "unprecedented" in terms of how celebrated its members are. It is headed by Olivier Pere, artistic director of the Locarno Film Festival, and additional jury members include Georges Goldenstern (head of Cinéfondation, Cannes Film Festival), Vibeke Windlov (producer, Denmark), Marit van den Elshout (head of CineMart, Rotterdam Film Festival), Michael Weber (head of the Match Factory, Germany), Maya Amsellem (managing director of WestEnd Films), and Tzvika Kertzner (head of Scriptwriting Track, the Sam Spiegel School). In addition, 20 prominent international producers and sales agents will be in attendance at the pitching event.
The cash awards include $25,000 from the Jerusalem Fund for Film and Television for a film that will be set in Jerusalem.
Schorr, who has overseen every phase of the project, along with Ifat Tubi, the associate director, is excited about the quality of the screenplays.
"These filmmakers, all of whom are working on their first or second film, are emotionally connected to these projects," he says. "Many of them are autobiographical, about coming of age emotionally, artistically and politically. They all come from the heart, they are not formula films."
Initially, Schorr and Tubi had planned to select eight directors from abroad and four from Israel, but the quality of the Israeli offerings was so high, they chose six Israelis. One of these, Nadav Lapid, is well known to both Israeli and international audiences. His debut film, The Policeman, was shown at both the Jerusalem Film Festival and the New York Film Festival last year. The other Israelis in the competition are Michal Vinik, Asaph Polonsky, Shimon Shai, Tsivia Barkai and Chaim Elbaum (who made the award-winning short, And Thou Shalt Love, as his Ma'aleh Film School graduate project).
Their films deal with such varied subjects as a girl who doesn't fit in growing up with a mystical father in Beit El in Barkai's project, The Red Heifer, a compulsive gambler in Shai's Paradise, and a rebellious and bored suburban girl in Vinik's Barash.
Dominga Sotomayor, whose first film, Thursday Till Sunday, won the top prize at the Rotterdam Film Festival and is being shown in this year's Jerusalem Film Festival, is the best known among the international participants. The script this Chilean director submitted for the competition, Late to Die Young, is about a cataclysmic forest fire. The other participants from abroad are Burhan Qurbani from Germany, Philippe Lacote from the Ivory Coast, Alvaro Brechner from Uruguay, Malik Vitthal from the US and Ernesto Contreras from Mexico.
This project is the fourth film lab of this type, says Schorr, the others being the Sundance Institute (USA), The Binger Film Institute (Amsterdam) and the Turin Film Lab (Italy).
Those established film labs are extremely well respected, but Schorr is confident the Jerusalem International Film Lab can compare in terms of quality and depth of its staff, students and their projects.
"Israeli screenwriting, certainly in terms of short films, is above the level of the average European short films," says Schorr. He is confident that the Lab is a natural outgrowth of Sam Spiegel. Films by Sam Spiegel students are shown at approximately 100 international film festivals annually, and the school has been the subject of 160 tributes and retrospectives at film schools and institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in 1996 (the first time MOMA had ever paid such tribute to a film school) and the Berlin Film Festival in 2004. The school was voted Best Film School in the world 15 times at various festivals, and its student films have won more than 300 prizes at international festivals.
That last statistic would be worth boasting about for any film school in the world, but for a relatively new school in a country where the film industry barely got going until the past 10 years, it's staggering.
Schorr simply thinks the Israeli film industry now has a great deal to teach filmmakers around the world.
"We as Israelis are used to schnorring, to going abroad and looking for funds, but we have convinced Israelis to invest in this project," says Schorr. In fact, a great deal of the funding for this project has come from local Israeli sources, including the Cultural Administration of the Israeli Ministry of Culture, The Jerusalem Film and Television Fund of The Jerusalem Development Authority, and The Israel State Lottery Council for Culture and the Arts and the Beracha Foundation. A host of other organizations from both Israel and abroad also made significant contributions.
Asked whether any foreign filmmakers who were accepted chose not to attend because they did not want to study in Israel, Schorr and Tubi laugh.
"We just got finished accepting applications for last year," explains Schorr.
"And we got bags of mail. We're still getting Fedexes. People definitely want to be a part of this Lab."