Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Antti Alanen: Viewpoints on Israel in the Cinema (a lecture)

Israel in 5772 lecture series 17 Jan 2012, at Helsinki University, arranged by the Finland-Israel Society of Helsinki

My topics included:

BEFORE ISRAEL (during the Ottoman Empire, and during the British Mandate since the 1917 Balfour Declaration): Lumière 1897 and other pioneers like Oskar Messter and Edison's cinematographers came - showing Mount Zion, the Grave of Lazarus, the Jordan River, the Dome of the Rock, the Via Dolorosa, the Wailing Wall. Sidney Olcott came from the US to shoot From the Manger to the Cross (1912) on location
Zionism and the cinema were born simultaneously, and films about Zionism were important in the beginning, also showing the Holy Land
Film production in the area starts in 1911, Nathan Axelrod in 1926, the first feature Oded Hanoded / Oded the Wanderer (1933), D: Haim Halakhmi
Aleksander Ford: Sabra / Tsabar (1933)

1950: Mordechai Navon establishes the Geva studios
1951: Pargot Klausner establishes the Herzlyia studios
These two are powerful in 1950-1980, in 1980 merging into United Studios
In the beginning focusing on weekly newsreels
One of the rare feature films is Hill 24 Doesn't Answer (1955) directed by Thorold Dickinson, the first fictional feature film entirely produced within the borders of the state of Israel.
Another landmark is Hem hayu assarah / They Were Ten directed by Baruch Dinar, on the 19th century immigrants.
The state started to regulate cinema in 1954, but it was an affair of commerce strictly.

In the 1960s there was a growth in production from 2-3 movies into 10-15-20 movies annually.

MENAHEM GOLAN was interested in all genres including thrillers (El Dorado, 1963), musicals (Dalia vehamalakhim / Dalia and the Sailors, 1964), espionage (Mivtsa Kahir / Operation Cairo, 1966) and social melodrama (Fortuna, 1966). Not forgetting children's movies (Shmona bikvot elehad / When Eight Become One, 1964) and farce (Aliza Mizrahi, 1967). Critics ignored Golan. Golan had success with Kazablan (1973), a musical version of El Dorado, and Mivtsa Yonatan / Operation Thunderbolt (1977), a reconstruction of the Entebbe hostage drama. Later Golan had international success in partnership with Yoram Globus and the Cannon company in the 1980s.

BOUREKA was the first original Israeli genre. Bourekas were ethnic comedies about the meeting of the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi. The first boureka was Sallah shabbati (1964) produced by Golan and directed by Efraim Kishon.

The most personal Israeli comedy director was Uri Zohar. Khor balevana / A Hole in the Moon (1965) was an anarchistic satire with avantgardistic features. Uri Zohar made both personal movies and broad farces. Among his main works are Metzitzim / The Watchers (1972) and Eynaim gedoloth / Big Eyes (1974), starring himself. In 1977 Zohar started studies to become a rabbi.

In the late 1960 braver winds emerged, inspired by the new waves. Turning-point movies included Yehuda "Judd" Ne'emanäs Ha'simla [The Dress] (1970), Dan Wolman's Ha'timhoni [The Dreamer] (1970), and Avraham Heffner's Le'an ne'elam Daniel Wax? [Who Was Daniel Wax?] (1972).

MOSHE MIZRAHI was the new wave director who had most success with the audience in movies such as Ani ohey otakh, Rosa [Rosa, I Love You] (1972), and Ha bayit be Rekhov Chelouche [A House at Chelouche Street] (1973).

ISRAELI TEEN COMEDIES became another original Israel genre. They became international hits, produced by Golan and Globus, and directed by Boaz Davidson, starting with Lemon Popsicle (1977).

In 1979 the ministry of culture started to support film production on cultural grounds. A new wave of film-makers was more political and demanding than the previous film-makers. They did not hesitate to bite the hand that fed them. Since then the artistically ambitious Israeli cinema has been critical of the military-minded national policy of the country.

Among the new generation Yaki Yosha made striking movies such as Ha'ayt [The Vulture] (1981) and Dead End Street (1982). Daniel Wachsman made challengin films like Hamsin (1982). Other ambitious artists included Dan Wolman, Michal Bat-Adam, Mira Recanati and Itzhak "Zeppel" Yeshurun.

Yehuda Ne'eman who had acted as a professor continued his film-making career.

A disappointment with the national policy and the Lebanon war (1982-1984) was common to directors such as Uri Barbash [Beyond the Wall] (1984), Nissim Dayan [A Very Straight Bridge] (1985), Shimon Doran [A Lamb's Smile] (1986), Rafi Boukai (Avanti popolo, 1986) ja Eli Cohen [Ricochets] (Shtei etzba'oth me-Tzidon, 1986).

The myth of heroism was reconsidered in Yehuda "Judd" Ne'eman's movie Massa alounkoth [Paratroopers] (1977) and Dan Wolman's Ayal halayla [Soldier of the Night] (1984).

The myth of the victims of war was investigated in Yaki Yosha's Ha'ayit [The Vulture] (1981).

The concern about the uncertain future of schoolchildren facing military service was discussed in Renen Schorr's Blues la'hofesh hagadol [Late Summer Blues] (1987). Same topics were handled in Dan Wolman's Miskh'kei makhbu'im [Hide and Seek] (1981).

The intifada and the radicalization of the Israeli-Arab conflict in 1988 caused turbulence among film-makers. Itzhak "Zeppel" Yeshurun discussed the escalation of violence in Sadoth yerukim [Green Fields]. Assi Dayan directed The Life According to Agfa (1992), "Israel's Do the Right Thing" where people from different backgrounds face the vital / mortal questions of the nation. Also intimate films reacted on the change, films such as Avraham Heffner's Ahavata ha'acharona shel Laura Adler [Laura Adler's Last Love] (1990) and Eitan Green's Ezrakh amerikai [An American Citizen] (1992).

Women became more active. The director-actress Michal Bat Adam made an autobiographical series including Al khevel dak [On a Narrow String] (1981), Ben lokeakh bat [Children's Games] (1982) ja Aya, autobiografia diionit [Aya, a Fictional Biography] (1994).

Israel's first woman film-maker Gila Almagor became a film producer who produced Eli Cohen's Hakaitz shel Aviya [Aviya's Summer] (1989) and its sequel Etz hadmim tafus [Under the Domim Tree] (1995).

After the Fall of the Wall in Eastern Europe after the end of the Cold War half a million Jews immigrated from the ex-Eastern Bloc countries. There was a rise of antisemitism in Europe. Film-makers sought a new way to deal with the new problems.

The meaning of short films grew especially via the Tel Aviv film schools, and they received international awards. There was a new rise in documentary film making.

AMOS GITAI was the artistically leading film director. In the jom kippur war in 1973 he started to film, and his helicopter was shot down on the Golan Hills, discussed in Gitai's movie Kippur. Gitai made critical documentary movies about the occupation of Palestine (Bayit) and the Lebanon war (Yoman Sadeh). Facing censorship Gitai moved to France for ten years. He directed movies about the Jewish heritage (the Golem movies) and the birth of Israel (Berlin-Yerushalaim). In 1992 Gitai returned when Yitzhak Rabin was elected prime minister and the Oslo peace talks led to an agreement about Palestine government. In Kadosh Gitai criticized the emphasis on religion in Israel. Kippur gained strength from autobiography. Kedma was a critical view about Israel's war of independence in 1948. Altmanian multi-narrative was on display in the tragicomical Tel Aviv account Alila. Promised Land discusses foreign prostitutes in Israel. Free Zone, starring Natalie Portman, is an account of meetings between the Israeli and the Palestinians on the border zone governed by black market.

Commercial film production crumbled with the success of television. Public film subsidies were never strong. The new generation often used video. Facing the past and criticizing the national policy are hallmarks of Israeli quality cinema.

David Noy's What Now? (1998) was a critical 50th anniversary movie of the state of Israel.

Encounters between the Israeli and the Arabs started to grow into a central theme in the 1990s. In Udi Ben-Arieh's short film [The Second Guard] (1995) the soldier Berkowitz patrols the Israeli-Jordan border. Synyora Bar David discussed the theme in his documentaries as did Adok Dror. Artists feel that borders and walls are strange. To the great tradition of Israeli documentary film belongs Ron Havilio's Fragments Jerusalem (1998).

Since 11 September 2001 film-makers in the Middle East seem to agree on better understanding in a world of terror. Between Palestinian and Israeli quality film-makers there is no wall. They share the values of international humanism.

Movies in a spirit of reconciliation include the works of Amos Gitai (Kedma, 2002, and Free Zone, 2005), but also the work of the Palestinian Elia Suleiman (Divine Intervention, 2002) and Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now, 2005). The French-Israeli Simone Bitton faces the reality in Mur (2004). Among the highlights are Ari Folman's factual animation Waltz with Bashir (2008), Samuel Maoz's tautly autobiographical tank story Libanon (2009) and Julian Schnabel's Miral (2010).

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