Lebanon, Eyes Wide Open and Ajami mark return of Israeli cinema
Awards, box office hits othodox homo-erotica – Israeli cinema is hot at the moment. Perhaps Scotland could learn a thing or two. Paul Dale explains.
This week the third Israeli film about the 1982 Lebanon War to scoop a major award will be released in Scotland. Samuel Maoz’ tank interior set Lebanon (pictured) scooped the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival. Before that Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir snaffled a Golden Globe, and before that Joseph Cedar’s Beaufort took the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. All three films received development cash from the Israeli Film Fund, an organisation comparable to our own Scottish Screen, and were then financed through a complex web of private and personal investments and donations. So just to recap that’s three Israeli films about the same war celebrated on the international stage. Also out this week is Haim Tabakman’s intense queer love story Eyes Wide Open set in the ultra orthodox Jewish community of Jerusalem, and next month the Oscar nominated Israeli box office hit Ajami reaches these shores. Refreshingly Yaron Shani and Scandar Copti’s film is not a war film but a neo-realist, multi-perspective portrayal of life in the neighbourhood in Jaffa, the Arab city that sits at the tail end of Tel Aviv.
On top of this, in January Israel’s oldest daily newspaper Haaretz reported that the Israel Film Fund had approved funds for seven full-length feature films, five of them by women directors. That these projects include features by gifted actress Hiam Abbass (Lemon Tree, The Visitor) and Eran Riklis, whose 1991 film Cup Final arguably spearheaded the Israeli new wave of filmmakers, is great news. To say that the state of Israel’s relatively youthful film industry (first features date back to the 1950s) is having a bit of a moment is something of an understatement.
And so to a country with a greater land mass than Israel but with about two million less people in it. You have to go back a good 25 or so years to find a time when Scottish cinema enjoyed such a moment in the sun. As Thatcher ripped the country apart, the working class filmmakers of Scotland revolted. Bill Forsyth did the box office business with Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero, while major gods of the cinematic firmament – Bill Douglas (Comrades) and John The Long Good Friday Mackenzie among them, created an off-kilter and noticeable filmic diversity north of the border. But that was then, this is now and it feels like it’s been an age.
Next week Scottish Screen and Creative Scotland will send a small publicly funded delegation to Cannes to knob about and hold a drinks reception. It is, of course, important for the Scottish media to have visibility at such events but maybe a research trip to Tel Aviv, would be a better use of resources. It was Jews, after all – Adolph Zukor and Harry Cohn among them – who invented Hollywood. Maybe they can do something for Holyrood.
Lebanon, GFT, Glasgow from Fri 14 May. Eyes Wide Open, Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Mon 24 May. Ajami, selected release from Fri 18 Jun.