Filmmakers trade jabs over so-called ‘settler film fund’

Israel’s top directors and actors come out strongly against West Bank-based film organization created by former culture minister Miri Regev

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Illustrative: The northern West Bank settlement of Rehelim. (Samaria Regional Council)
Illustrative: The northern West Bank settlement of Rehelim. (Samaria Regional Council)

After a long list of Israeli filmmakers stated they would not cooperate with the new Samaria Cinema Film Fund, focused on films created by settlers and about the Jewish settlements, a second group of industry veterans have voiced their support for the effort.

The group of film and television creators called the fund “a new home for creation,” blessing its existence and stating their belief that it “will offer a fertile home for important voices in Israeli film, some of which don’t get expressed satisfactorily.”

The second letter was signed by a shorter list of industry names that included producer Moshe Edry and actors Shalom Assayag, Danny Steg and Ohad Knoller, and was in response to the first missive signed by more than 200 Israeli filmmakers.

The initial letter from the industry professionals said they will not receive grants or participate in the selection of films for development and production, nor in events held by the fund.

The letter campaign was prompted by a comment made during the fund’s recent July inaugural film festival, when film distributor Ophir Lafa said the fund would make every effort to bring the annual Ophir Awards, Israel’s equivalent to the Academy Awards, to the West Bank.

The protesting filmmakers, including Oscar-nominated Ari Folman, Berlinale Golden Bear winner Nadav Lapid, HBO creators Haggai Levy, Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan, Ophir winner Eran Kolirin and dozens of other filmmakers, called on the Israeli Academy of Film and Television not to participate in “whitewashing the occupation” ahead of the Ophir Awards ceremony on September 18.

“What stands behind this inaugural festival, as well as behind the newly established Samaria Cinema Fund, is not a love of culture but … aimed at erasing the Green Line and the distinction between military and civilian regimes and normalizing the settlements,” the letter stated.

“The Samaria Fund is not a pluralistic fund — it is part and parcel of the apartheid regime, open to one ethnic group (Jews) and closed to another (Palestinians) living in the same geo-political area.”

They called on the Israeli Academy of Film and Television “not to turn Israeli cinema into yet another instrument in the oppression of the Palestinian people.”

The filmmakers concluded the initial letter by declaring they wouldn’t cooperate with the fund, and would never hold the Ophir Awards in an area subject to military occupation.

The fund was founded in 2019 by former culture minister Miri Regev, a longtime critic of what she charged were anti-Israel movies produced by local filmmakers.

While in the role of culture minister, Regev consistently stated that the various local filmmaking funds to which the government has traditionally allocated money were systematically discriminating against filmmakers from the settlements, the Arab community and the ultra-Orthodox community.

The Samaria Cinema Film Fund, founded last year, distributes grants to Jewish settlers who are residents of the West Bank and to productions by Israeli citizens filmed in the West Bank. Palestinian residents are barred from applying to this fund.

Yossi Dagan, head of the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, is among the founders of the fund and chairs its board, while the fund’s CEO, Ester Allouche, is also the spokesperson for the Samaria Regional Council.

The fund’s inaugural film festival took place in early July, and attending officials included Regev, current Culture Minister Chili Tropper and heads of local film funds and television networks.

At the event, Regev gave “thanks to the Creator of the world that the revolution I led is taking shape here in Judea and Samaria as well. Tonight we are celebrating a literal picture of victory — the first Tamuz film festival, a victory of the entire settlement enterprise.”

Last year, the fund received 139 film scripts and 34 films were given funding, according to the fund’s website, which lists 21 documentaries and five feature films currently under production.

It also funded 2021 tween flick “Full Speed,” about teenage race car drivers, which was filmed in the Jordan Valley with actors from Tel Aviv.

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