Culture minister Regev demands closer examination of film funds

Ministry seeks detailed information about the approval process for movies, in apparent bid to clamp down on those portraying Israel in a negative light

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Culture Minister Miri Regev speaks with the media before the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on March 16, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Culture Minister Miri Regev speaks with the media before the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on March 16, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Israel’s Ministry of Culture is asking Israeli film funds to provide detailed information about the approval process for films, in an apparent attempt to clamp down on those that portray Israel in a negative way.

Apparently led by controversial culture minister, Miri Regev — known for her threats to cut state funding for cultural productions and organizations that appear to be disloyal to the Jewish state — the review will examine how funds approved and rejected film proposals, and the officials involved in making those decisions.

Most film funds receive a significant portion of their budgets from the state.

According to reports in the Hebrew press, the New Fund for Cinema and Television was required to supply information about the approval process for documentary series “Megiddo,” which tells the story of Palestinians in Israeli prisons for security offenses.

“Megiddo” director Itzik Lerner spent years getting permission to film in Megiddo prison, and the result is his three-part series, currently being screened on the YES documentary channel this month.

A source close to the funds said that several film funds have been undergoing a significant audit process over the last few months and were required to supply detailed information to the ministry, in order to have the governmental portion of their budgets approved in January.

The ministry then said they wanted a deeper look at what the funds’ film approval process, going as far back as five years.

“They wanted to know why each film was chosen, and who said yes, and who said no, and why,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The source said the three film funds under question are the Yehoshua Rabinovich Foundation for the Arts, the New Fund for Cinema and Television and the Gesher Multicultural Film Fund.

All three are independently funded and also receive budgets from the Ministry of Culture.

Several recent films that came under Regev’s censure were supported by the funds, including the award-winning “Five Broken Cameras,” showing firsthand accounts of protests in a Palestinian village. It was in part financed by the New Fund. The Oscar-nominated documentary “The Gatekeepers” — in which former Shin Bet directors discuss the agency’s successes and failures since 1967 — received financial support from the Rabinovich Fund.

The ministry’s current requests for information come from a panel headed by the director of the ministry’s culture administration, Galit Wahba-Shasho.

Wahba-Shasho told the film funds in a letter that she is obligated to present data from the funds’ activities over the past five years.

It appears to be a winnowing process that Regev began from the time she took office, in March 2015, following the Knesset elections.

Last September, she walked out of the Ophir awards — Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars — when a poem by late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish was read, because his poems preached objections to the existence of a Jewish state.

During the same awards ceremony, two Palestinian actresses from the award-winning Bedouin drama “Sand Storm” wouldn’t take the stage to receive the awards from Regev, to protest the minister’s political views.

At the time, Regev said that “whoever self-identifies as a Palestinian — they can move and live elsewhere. I know that all citizens of this state are citizens of Israel. And if actors receiving prizes from the State of Israel define themselves as Palestinians, it is a very serious problem.”

Regev, who served as the IDF spokesperson before being elected to the Knesset in 2008, said last September that she would establish a committee to examine the management of the Israeli Academy of Film and Television, as well as funding for films, and would present a report to the ministry within three months.

She drew angry reactions from actors last summer when she discussed withdrawing funding from a Jaffa port theater run by Arab actor Norman Issa, because he had refused to take part in a Haifa Theater production in the Jordan Valley, considered part of the West Bank.

This past December, Regev took aim at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, when the art house theater promoted the 48mm Festival, known also as The Third International Film Festival on Nakba and Return.

In January, Regev talked about amending the 2011 so-called Nakba law, which allows the government to stop funding organizations that present Israel’s establishment as a “catastrophe,” according to the Palestinian narrative.

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