After a long list of Israeli filmmakers announced their intention not to cooperate with the new “Samaria Film Fund,” which focuses on settler-produced films about Jewish settlements, a second group of industry veterans announced their support for the initiative.
This group of film and television makers described the box as a “new home for creativity,” and praised its existence, expressing their belief that it “will provide a fertile home for important voices in Israeli cinema, some of which are not satisfactorily expressed.”
The second letter was signed by a list of shorter names in the industry that included producer Moshe Edri and actors Shalom Assayag, Danny Steg and Ohad Knoller, and was in response to the first letter signed by more than 200 Israeli filmmakers.
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In the first letter, the filmmakers announced their intention not to accept grants or participate in selecting films for development and production, nor in events organized by the fund.
What prompted the artists to sign the letter was a comment made during the fund’s inaugural film festival in July, when film distributor Ofir Lava announced that the fund would make every effort to bring the annual Ophir Awards, Israel’s version of the Academy Awards, to West Bank.
Protesting filmmakers, including Academy Award-nominated Ari Vollmann, Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear winner Nadav Lapid, HBO creators Hagai Levy, Moore Lushy and Daniel Sivan, Ophir Prize winner Eran Coleraine, and dozens of Other filmmakers told the Israel Academy of Film and Television not to participate in the “whitewashing of the occupation” ahead of the Ophir Awards on September 18.
“What stands behind this inaugural festival, as well as behind the newly created Samaria Film Fund, is not a love for culture but… the erasure of the Green Line, the distinction between the military and civil regimes, and the normalization of settlements,” the letter read.
The authors of the letter added that “the Samaria Fund is not a pluralistic box — it is part of the apartheid system, open to one ethnic group (the Jews) and closed to the other (the Palestinians) who live in the same geographical and political area.”
The signatories to the Israeli Academy of Film and Television letter called “not to turn Israeli cinema into another tool in the oppression of the Palestinian people.”
The filmmakers concluded the letter by declaring that they would not cooperate with the fund, and would never receive Ophir Awards in a military-occupied territory.
The fund was founded in 2019 by former Culture Minister Miri Regev, who has long criticized what she has accused of being anti-Israel films produced by local filmmakers.
During her tenure as Minister of Culture, Regev has consistently stated that the various local film-making funds to which the government has allocated funds have traditionally and systematically discriminated against filmmakers from the settlements, the Arab community, and the Haredi community.
The Samaria Film Fund distributes grants to Jewish settlers residing in the West Bank and to productions filmed in the West Bank for Israeli citizens. Palestinian residents are prohibited from applying for funding from the fund.
Among the fund’s founders is Yossi Dagan, head of the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization for settlements in the West Bank, and he also chairs its board, while the fund’s executive director, Esther Alush, is also a spokeswoman for the Samaria Regional Council.
The fund’s inaugural film festival took place in early July, and was attended by officials including Regev, current Culture Minister Heli Trooper and heads of local film funds and television networks.
At the event, Regev thanked “the Creator of the world that the revolution she led is taking shape here in Judea and Samaria as well. Tonight we celebrate with a true picture of victory – the first ‘July Film Festival’, a victory for the entire settlement enterprise.”
Last year, the fund received 139 film scripts, and funded 34 films, according to the fund’s website, including 21 documentaries and five feature films currently in production.
He also financed the movie “Full Speed” in 2020, which is about teenage race car drivers, and was filmed in the Jordan Valley with actors from Tel Aviv.
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