After a thrilling year at Cannes for Israeli films, Katriel Schory, head of Israel Film Fund, talks to Edna Fainaru about the new, invigorated mood among the country’s film-makers

Six Israeli feature films and one Cinefondation short were showcased at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and Katriel Schory, head of Israel Film Fund, describes it as affirmation the country now boasts a solid, sustainable film industry.

“I see it as an ongoing process that establishes Israel as a legitimate film industry, like Denmark or Iran,” he says. “One year they may do a bit better and not so well the next, but they’re always there; a constant presence.”
Schory is one of the world’s most sought after specialists on film fund policy, and his influence in Israel extends well beyond Israel Film Fund.

He points with pride to the different types of films now being made as Israeli film-makers increasingly work in a wide variety of genres, exploring stories and genres beyond the Israeli-Arab political conflict.

“Many of these new films deal with social issues, some of them are very tough films,” he says. “They come from deep inside.”

He is referring to upcoming projects including Sophie Artus’s Valley, Noam Kaplan’s immigration drama Manpower, Efrat Corem’s Ben Zaken and Bazi Gete’s Red Leaves, all backed by Israel Film Fund.

“More films are coming from the provincial areas, Schory continues. “Ben Zaken takes place in a remote, very rough neighbourhood in Ashkelon, Red Leaves deals with the Ethiopian community in Rehovot and Valley was shot in Migdal Haemek.”

Notably, four of the six Israeli features in Cannes were made by women. “In the last three years, the fund has greenlit 14 projects directed by women,” says Schory. “This is not the result of a policy decision. The projects were simply very good and were selected on their own merit. I believe women are now more assertive on a big set and display the kind of leadership that is often needed in addition to talent. They fight for the kind of film they want to make. We also have 12 to 14 excellent women producers.”

Schory points to Talia Kleinhendler whose credits include Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani’s Oscar-nominated Ajami; Yuval Adler’s Bethlehem, which screened at Venice last year; and Nadav Lapid’s The Kindergarten Teacher,which screened at Cannes in May. Kleinhendler works regularly with leading directors such as Shemi Zarhin and Amos Kollek, and is preparing a new film called The Farewell Party, which Schory reveals has already attracted the interest of film festivals.

Tackling genre

Israel Film Fund is also investing in genre films, such as Oren Carmi’s Goldberg & Eisenberg, Yuval Mendelson and Nadav Hollander’s Cats On A Pedal Boat and Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s Big Bad Wolves.

“We realised that we now have to think in terms of niche audiences,” Schory says. “This is a sign of the industry’s maturity. We have reached the stage where we can say ‘audience’ is not a dirty word.”

The success of Talya Lavie’s Zero Motivation, a dark comedy about life for female Israeli soldiers at a remote army base, which won the best narrative feature award at Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, came at a good moment: Israel Film Fund launched an initiative dedicated to comedies this year. “We received 54 fully developed projects and we set up a completely different set of [script] readers to deal with them,” says Schory.

In his opinion, the Israeli system of two state-backed film funds for feature-length projects, Israel Film Fund and the Cinema Project both overseen by the Film Council, works well for film-makers, as the funds are not allowed to invest in the same projects.

“The test of the public funding system is to trace and identify talent and stories. Having two funds offers every film-maker two doors to knock on,” says Schory. “In the case of Israel Film Fund, every project can be submitted three times, to three different sets of lectors, allowing film-makers more chances and reducing the risk of missing potential talent.”

Through the Film Council, the Israeli government invests $23m (ils80m) in the Israeli film industry annually. Around 85% of this goes straight into production financing. Israel Film Fund supports 12-14 features a year. “There is enough room for personal subjects that stretch film language to the limit, but ideally there should be room for a couple of lighter films as well,” adds Schory.

While the fund¹s policy right now is to back fewer projects with bigger budgets, Schory remains committed to supporting what he terms “the guerilla productions”, those projects he will finance up to $100,000.

These could be from first-time film-makers or veterans who have waited too long to have a full-scale script approved. Previous recipients have included Avishai Sivan’s The Wanderer, which screened in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2010; Sharon Bar-Ziv’s Room 514, which won a prize for best new narrative director at Tribeca Film Festival in 2012; and Amir Manor’s Epilogue, which screened at Venice in 2012.

With 17 international co-production agreements providing about one-third of the total investment in Israeli film production, many in the Israeli industry, led by Schory, believe the country now urgently needs a promotional export body to showcase the finished product, along the lines of Unifrance and German Films. It is a role Schory has previously taken on informally, for all Israeli titles not just those backed by Israel Film Fund. Now, as the Israeli industry grows rapidly in stature, it is a role he believes needs full-time attention.