November 15, 2019

Israel Film Festival: Celebrating a Dream, 30 Years Later

“We are here to celebrate a dream that began with one screen, six films and a heart full of hope. Now, more than three decades later, that dream is greater than ever.” 

These were the words spoken by Israel Film Festival (IFF) founder Meir Fenigstein at a recent fundraising luncheon at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, honoring key film and television industry figures. 

The event was held for sponsors ahead of the 32nd annual Israel Film Festival, which will take place this Nov. 6-20 in Los Angeles and will feature a program of more than 30 Israeli features, TV series, documentaries and short films. 

“This year, the Israel Film Festival celebrates the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel,” Fenigstein said. “And we will shine a light on the young leadership of Jewish organizations in Los Angeles. Our goal is to partner with young professionals and connect them with Israeli culture and heritage.” 

With over 100 sponsors on board, “this is our most successful fundraiser ever,” Fenigstein told the Journal. He had no program details for this year’s event to disclose, “but we’re trying to get more television shows than last year,” he said. The 31st IFF featured the U.S. premiere of “Mossad 101” and the world premiere of Season Two of “Fauda,” both now streaming on Netflix. 

Netflix executive Larry Tanz was honored with the Achievement in Television Award for his efforts in showcasing these Israeli programs. 

“Larry had the chutzpah to bring Israeli shows to the world and they’re now reaching over 135 million Netflix members,” Creative Artist Agency Co-head of Television and IFF Chairman Adam Berkowitz told the assemblage. 

“‘Fauda’ has become a huge hit for Netflix, watched in 190 countries by millions of people. This has led to a real appreciation of Israeli television and opportunities for Israeli producers, actors and creators,” Berkowitz said. “People in distant places are hearing Hebrew for the first time and are understanding how complicated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict really is.”

In his acceptance speech, Tanz said, “Right now, people are watching ‘Fauda’ on Netflix in countries that would never have allowed a Hebrew program to air on TV. They’re experiencing other cultures in a new way, which I believe promotes greater understanding across borders. My colleagues and I at Netflix hope that we can shrink distances between people by sharing their stories, not just from Israel but Korea and France and many other places.” 

Philanthropist Stanley Black received the IFF Humanitarian Award and “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” producer Ram Bergman was honored with the Achievement in Film Award, presented by Mark Hamill, who plays the “Star Wars” franchise’s original hero, Luke Skywalker. 

Born and raised in Rishon LeZion, Israel, Bergman’s other producing credits include Natalie Portman’s directorial debut, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,”, “Self/less” with Ryan Reynolds, and “Brick,” “Looper” and “Don Jon,” all starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. With his producing partner, writer-director Rian Johnson, he’s creating a new “Star Wars” trilogy, featuring completely new characters. He most recently produced a remake of the 1973 film “Papillon,” which will be released Aug. 24.

Bergman told the Journal that he’d love to work more in Israel, with Israeli actors and directors. “It’s amazing how much talent is there on all fronts, not just entertainment,” he said. “Being an Israeli and seeing how well Israelis are doing now in all sorts of aspects, whether it’s technology, medicine or our business, we have a stage now and it’s great.” 

(L-R) Meir Fenigstein, Mark Hamill, Larry Tanz, Ram Bergman // Photo Credit: Todd Williamson (IFF)

Actor Elliott Gould, who received the IFF Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010, was on hand to show his support for the festival. He has been to Israel, first at the behest of Israeli producers Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus, and again for the 25th annual Haifa International Film Festival, where he was awarded a special prize for excellence and contribution to global cinema in 2009.

“I don’t have any plans, but I will go back [to Israel],” Gould told the Journal. He was about to travel to New York for the premiere of “Ocean’s 8,” in which he reprises his role of hotel tycoon Reuben Tishkoff from “Ocean’s 11” and its two sequels.

Sam Grundwerg, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles, thanked the sponsors for their patronage of the Israel Film Festival. “The Israeli film industry is breaking down boundaries and reaching a truly global audience, with comedies and dramas that challenge our conventional thinking,” he said. 

“The films are a reflection of Israel’s spirit, its sense of openness and diverse multicultural society,” Grundwerg added. “Over the past 32 years of this festival, more than 450 Israeli filmmakers have been introduced to American audiences and over a thousand Israeli films have been screened to an audience of almost 1 million viewers nationwide. Without your support and belief in Israeli creativity and arts, we would not have been able to achieve so much.”