Katriel Schory • Executive director, Israel Film Fund
“In Israel, people are definitely returning to cinemas for Israeli films”
- Since being founded in 1979, the Israel Film Fund has supported the production of over 340 films. Interview with Executive director Katriel Schory
Since being established in 1979, the Israel Film Fund has supported the production of over 340 films, among which five Israeli feature films that made it to this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Cineuropa met the Film Fund’s executive director, Katriel Schory, who told us about a success story that could provide a source of inspiration for many European countries.
Cineuropa: Israeli cinema has been well represented at Cannes this year. How would you explain it?
Katriel Schory: First of all, all the Israeli films that are here are supported by public funding. In fact, there is hardly any possibility to produce a film in Israel without public funding. Most of these films [at Cannes] have international co-productions, and Germany is our main partner with three films on board.
When would you say that Israeli films really returned to the international scene?
I think that we actually returned to the international scene in 2001, with a film called Marriage Tardif, and since then, we have had constant representation here, as in many other festivals.
How are Israeli films perceived in Israel?
In Israel, people are definitely returning to cinemas for Israeli films.
We had a period in which we lost a part of the audience, but over the past ten to 12 years we have seen a strong return of Israeli audiences to watch Israeli films. The numbers are not bad. Some films are doing very well, which in our terms means selling more than 150,000 tickets inside the country, which, for the size of Israel, is good.
So, all together, there is a big interest in Israeli films from Israel itself as well.
Do you have the impression that the response from the international sales agents is positive?
I am very happy. For example, if I look at all the films that we have here, all the five films are here with international sales agents. They arrived at Cannes with international sales agents, which means that sales agents found them interesting enough before they even made it to the festival.
Some European sales agents make it a point to fly over to Israel two or three times a year to see what is going on, to meet producers, and some of the films here found a sales agent when they were still at the stage of a script, just to make sure that they would have the rights when the film was made, to be able to release and present it in the world.
How do you manage to get sales agents for Israeli films?
For feature narrative films, we have two main platforms in Israel: one at the Jerusalem Film Festival, and one at the Haifa Film Festival. Many of the sales agents make it a point to come there.
But, in addition to that, they stay in touch with me, and some of them have developed relationships with Israeli producers, and fly over regardless of festivals.
We had the movie which won the main award at Tribeca, two or three weeks ago, Zero Motivation, and it looks like, by know, we will definitely have an Israeli film in Locarno and in Venice, and it also looks very promising for San Sebastian and Toronto.
The Israel Film Fund helps a lot. We are really a kind of “match-maker”: we create the platforms for Israeli producers to come and present… We match-make, we produce… We are always trying to help Israeli film professionals to meet people and find partners...
For many European producers, the Israel Film Fund is perceived as a model of good practices. How does public funding for cinema work in Israel?
On average, we get over 250 submissions with fully developed scripts per year, and we have money for 12 to 14. It’s a tough selection, but we have a selection team, some consultants and experts who read them. Then, for those who make it to the shortlist, I read myself together with my experts, and then we decide.
It is apparently a good mechanism. At the end of the day, what is the real task of a film fund? It is to create a system that allows you to trace or to find the most talented filmmakers and the best stories. All the time, we ask ourselves, is the fund doing it right and really helping us to find the talents?
What about the co-production treaties negotiated over the past years?
I, myself, negotiated most of the co-productions. Our biggest partners are France, with 45 co-productions between 2001 and 2013, and Germany with 31. The number of countries with whom we have co-production treaties is quite a lot, and it really works: one-third of all the money invested in Israeli feature films comes from overseas in the form of co-productions.
But co-production is not a one-way street. There is reciprocity. We also invest as minority co-producers in non-Israeli films.
When I came to the fund, there were only co-production treaties with five countries. In the past 12 years, Israeli cinema has seen “dramatic” changes. If you look at Google, where was Israeli cinema in, let’s say, 1998 or 1999? We were not on the international scene.
Now, after all these years, we are back on the international scene, and we have 17 co-production treaties. It now really works well, but of course it is a lot of work and effort.
What is the key to success for Israeli films?
If, maybe ten or 12 years ago, it was a coincidence if an Israeli film was successful, it is no longer coincidental.
Now, it’s a rare combination of three elements: powerful stories, coming from a very turbulent country, very intense, where life is on the edge, and very talented directors who came out of Israeli film schools. And a very strong movement of skills and professionals producers. When all those three elements come together, it gives confidence, also to international markets and festivals. This is part of the key to success.
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