Quick Look: Israel Film Fund

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For a country so tiny, Israel is well-known for the passionate disagreement of its citizens on many political, social, religious and ethical issues. Yet, despite the risks that accompany governmental favor of one opinion over another, Israel is one of the only countries to have a public fund to help filmmakers create their work, much of which is outwardly critical of state policy. Established in 1979 as a non-profit foundation, the Israel Film Fund was intended to create a public filmmaker support system free of commercial interests, and endorse their films from "the idea to the poster." Unlike many private endorsers, the Fund itself has no specific political agenda or biases, which enables filmmakers to execute their visions purely and without restraint.

There are over 300 films financed by the the Fund, and among them are subjects that had rarely been explored in Israeli cinema: the tribulations of assimilation into Israeli Society, the complex relationship between Jews and Arabs, and the soldier's view of the military. Perhaps, with the government's support of their films publicized, filmmakers are less concerned with harsh criticism for controversial themes, allowing them to be more explorative. Over the years, 100 of the Fund's films have been shown internationally, accumulating a total of 250 prizes. Three examples of films backed by the Israel Film Fund give a broad portrait of its aims:

Late Summer Blues, which premiered during the start of the First Intifada, initiated important dialogue as to whether or not army service should be mandatory. Directed by Renen Schorr in 1987, the film tells of a group of young Israelis in the summer after high school graduation. With their induction into the military looming, each character suffers reservations about being drafted. Schorr successfully portrays the sense of premature adulthood Israeli youth experiences when having to face the possibility of death, a particularly relevant message given the turbulence and upheaval being experienced in Israel at the time of the film's production

2004's The Syrian Bride, directed by Eran Riklis, is about a Druze woman from northern Israel who is engaged to a Syrian man, and the troubles they face due to the geographical border separating them. The film exposed the harsh ramifications of the Arab-Israeli conflict through the eyes of a family divided by political borders, and the Fund lent its support of the film, though its sympathetic tone surely angered certain viewers.

Made in 2008, Waltz with Bashir chronicles the army service of the film's director, Ari Folman, as he attempts to retrieve the memories he had lost of the 1982 Lebanon invasion that he participated in. It would have been understandable had the Fund shied away from supporting this project, given the questionable actions on Israel's part that are depicted. Yet the government still offered its funding for this movie's production, a testament to their sincere objective of granting the filmmaker almost complete creative freedom.

The Fund helps filmmakers to create their project by investing in the development of scripts, and the production and distribution of the films. Though 150 new scripts are submitted for review each year, only 15 are selected and granted financial backing. With a total annual budget of 6 million dollars the group can fund up to two-thirds of the film's approved budget, which is usually anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million dollars.

The establishment of the Israel Film Fund was monumental, ensuring significant creative freedom in the nation's cinema, all while offering government support. Though there is artistic discretion in choosing scripts are picked up by the Fund, the state agency doesn't meddle with filmmakers' personal views on Israeli society, instead lending weight to the argument that a stronger Israel -- at least artistically -- is a truly diverse one.