It’s nearly two weeks before the opening of the Jerusalem Film Festival and Noa Regev is sitting with some staff members on a Friday morning at work, joking about their Thursday night escapades while spooning up some soft white cheese straight from the container.
“We’re here all the time,” she said, gesturing to her breakfast.
It’s quiet in the Jerusalem Cinematheque, hours before the first film of the day is screened. But it’s busy down below on the first floor of the theater complex, where Regev, the Cinematheque’s new director, and her staff are preparing for the most important ten days of their year.
Back in her office, she points to the poster for the Jewish Film Festival, held each December, pointing out that that “other” annual festival is also significant.
Maybe. But in the world of the Cinematheque, Israel’s string of arthouse theaters, nothing is as important as the annual summer film festival held in Jerusalem. Drawing thousands of viewers, filmmakers and entries, it’s an annual event with an “international presence,” said Regev.
“This festival has a name, people look forward to this festival,” she said. “It’s all about the location; the Jerusalem Cinematheque is a symbol of openness, of coexistence and pluralism in a very complicated city.”
The institution, though, has been riddled with problems — plagued with budgetary issues, board conflicts and a director who left last summer after just 11 months on the job. Last summer’s festival almost didn’t take place.
But then the theater hired Regev, a 32-year-old who had been running the Holon Cinematheque, in November, after a major reorganization effort.
“I came after a tough period,” she said, “at the height of the recovery program.”
The two foundations that support the Cinematheque, the Jerusalem Foundation and Van Leer Foundation, fund-raised frantically last fall to cover the theater’s deficit and for additional funds.
Now they’re functioning without an operating deficit and with a generous loan for the next few years, said Regev.
“We’re budgeting carefully,” she said. “There’s lots of supervision and we know that the Cinematheque has to stay.”
Regev offers a distinctive departure from her predecessor, Alesia Weston. She doesn’t have the Los Angeles/Sundance background of Weston, but she’s got local cred: She served as an officer in the air force and has a PhD in film from Tel Aviv University.
More importantly, she worked her way up at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, where she began working as an usher when she was 15, and then returned after the army, working in the theater’s education department and later running the student film festival.
“I loved the Cinematheque,” she said. “I learned how to value the culture of films, how to appreciate the entire experience.”
Regev planned on becoming a film academic after the army, earning her PhD while lecturing at Tel Aviv University and Sapir College in Sderot, the southern development town that boasts its own Cinematheque. She soon realized that she wanted to be back in the industry, helping to strengthen Israeli film and the local film culture.
“Films as an experience, as a leisure time activity, are just not understood anymore,” said Regev. “We work with other kinds of tools and now we have these multiplexes, but we still need this kind of experience.”
“This kind of experience” is that unique Cinematheque visit, where the films can be on the esoteric side and the audience is sometimes older, or edgier. Jerusalem’s Cinematheque was the first of the country’s arthouse theaters, founded by Wim and Lia Van Leer in the 1950s as a place for arts and culture.
In recent years it has become a hangout for a mostly older crowd. but It wasn’t always like that. The Cinematheque theaters used to draw teenagers and students like Regev, who bought year-long memberships and had the time for five o’clock flicks or midnight showings. But the advent of iPads, smartphones and easily downloaded films has drawn moviegoers away from theaters, while massive multiplexes like Cinema City and YES Planet have picked up the slack.
Regev knows all that, and she’s pushing hard for to get the younger audience back.
The Jerusalem Cinematheque now offers a youth film critics club, free movie days for kids from lower income neighborhoods, and various film competitions for the younger folk. For the festival, they created a series of YouTube ads encouraging couch potatoes to put down their smartphones and come to the Cinematheque. She’s leveraging the power of the city’s new multiplex, Cinema City, as well, using its theaters for screening some of the 200 films viewed during the ten-day festival.
There are other goals, as well. Regev hired a new director for Israeli film with the aim of making the Jerusalem Cinematheque and the film festival a center for the local film industry.
This year, all the latest Israeli films will be included in the festival — including “Gett,” the recent Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz film, “Boreg,” by Shira Geffen, and “The Kindergarten Teacher” by Nadiv Lapid, competing in the festival’s best film competition — and the opening film is “Dancing Arabs,” the latest work from writer Sayed Kashua, Eran Riklis’s screen adaptation of Kashua’s novels “Dancing Arabs” and “Second Person Singular.”
She’s also snagged some heavy hitters to come to the festival, including American directors Spike Jonze and David Mamet, Austrian director Ulrich Seidl, South Korean director Park Chan-wook and German actress Martina Gedeck. Regev’s goal is to increase the interactions between local directors and the dozens of foreign filmmakers who will be in Israel for the festival.
“It’s an international festival, but the festival will be a platform for Israeli filmmakers,” she said. ”Our ticket is Israeli film and we believe in it.”