By Gal Sitty
This Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony will mark the fourth time in five years that an Israeli movie is competing for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Although Israel has yet to win in this category, the Israeli film industry, and indeed the entire Israeli entertainment industry, has undergone major a transformation in recent years (personally though, I think “Waltz With Bashir” was totally snubbed and should have won in 2009). Whereas previously Israeli film and TV had very little production value and perhaps even less substance, now Israeli films, documentaries and TV are winning festival awards, Golden Globes, and are increasingly being sold to other markets.
Act For Israel’s own Noa Tishby was instrumental in raising the profile of Israeli cinema abroad. In TV, the Israeli shows that have been sold and adopted to an American audience include the critically acclaimed HBO show “In Treatment” (produced by Tishby) and Showtime’s “Homeland.” The Israeli hit comedy “Ramzor” aired on FOX as “Traffic Light” and recently an Israeli reality show was sold to CBS.
The documentary “Strangers No More” about refugee children being warmly received in a south Tel Aviv school and given the education they were never afforded in their home countries won the 2011 Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject.
Beyond the movies that have been nominated in the foreign film category, Israeli movies are now also being remade by Hollywood studios. Among them “The Debt” starring Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson was well received by critics and other movies including “A Matter of Size” are currently in the works.
This trend is a significant reflection of life in Israel. Due to Israel’s abundant freedoms, unmatched by any of its regional neighbors, artistic expression is allowed to flourish. Indeed, some films have been critical of Israeli policies; something that would never be allowed in nearby Arab countries. Further the less formal atmosphere, entrepreneurial nature of Israelis and anti-authority mentality is also credited with promoting creativity that is not seen in the more established film industries.
Israeli films successes are thus a reflection of Israel’s success as a whole. Their unique challenges, coupled with unmatched freedoms, diversity and ingenuity, allow them to excel in ways unmatched anywhere else in the world. This is why anti-Israel activists who oppose peace with and recognition of the Jewish State can never best Israel.