Industry Report: Financing
Small tailor-made funding schemes. Interview with Katriel Schory, Director, Israeli Film Fund
by Euromed Audiovisuel
11/06/2008 - Euromed: Waltz with Bashir, an animated documentary in competition in Cannes this year, struck a chord with audiences. Could you tell us what the film is about?
Katriel Schory: It is a personal account of a filmmaker who lives with the trauma of having been a very young Israeli soldier in Lebanon, witnessing the horrors of war and being relatively close to where the massacre of Sabra and Chatila occurred. His memories of these events lie buried deep for many years but when he decides to examine how he has lived with his trauma and meets up with friends and comrades from the same unit to see what they remember, his memory comes flooding back in the form of powerful images. It is a sort of journey into remembrance. The film poses the question: What do we remember of what really happens and what, instead, is the work of our minds after so many years?
Euromed: When you read the script, did you think it should be a short film?
Katriel Schory: No, it started as a documentary and from the outset it was clear that it would be in animated form, but it was not clear what length it should be. In fact, the first financing offers came from the Israeli Documentary Film Funds, ARTE Documentaire and the Israeli Discovery Channel. When they showed me the first 45 minutes of the project, we had a long discussion and decided it could be feature-length. That’s where we came in. We helped get it ready for cinema release and will continue to support it with assistance for marketing and distribution in Israel.
Euromed: What animation technique was used for this film?
Katriel Schory: The film combines live-action with animation. The filmmaker has painted over the live-action and changed the pace of the movement. Indeed, although the main character has been painted over, if you look closely you will see that he resembles the director.
Euromed Audiovisuel: For two years running, Israel has been at Cannes with interesting films. Last year, for instance, there was The Band’s Visit, a film that received a 15-minute standing ovation and went on to participate in quite a few festivals and win awards. Is it the story about Egyptians and Israelis?
Katriel Schory: Yes, the film is about an Egyptian police band invited to play at the opening of an Egyptian cultural centre in a small town in Israel. But no one is sent to greet them. When they try to get there on their own steam, they get the name of the town wrong and end up in a tiny place in the middle of the desert with no means of transportation till the next day. So they remain stuck for a night. It is a story about relationships between people.
Euromed: It is quite surprising that despite the fact you manage public funds, you can support films that deal with sensitive issues, sometimes even from a critical point of view, without being hindered or stopped.
Katriel Schory: Actually I came under heavy criticism for Lemon Tree, a film which is really very critical of Israel. It won the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlinale just a few months ago. There was also some fallout over the film Restless, not to mention other films in previous years. But the Fund is a fully-registered NGO, not a government agency. To a certain extent, this keeps politicians and political pressure at bay. On the other hand, in addition to running the Fund and understanding something about cinema, I see it as my mission to act as a buffer between such pressures and filmmakers. As a film fund, we need to facilitate total freedom of expression for Israeli filmmakers so that they can tell their stories. I am prepared to take all the criticism and receive the hate mail. It happens every day. But filmmakers should do what they feel they have to do. I am neither a censor nor a politician. When we look at stories, we examine and select them purely on the basis of their cinematic value.
Euromed: What are your views on the Euromed Audiovisual programme? Israel has been an important beneficiary of the programme, with 118 Israeli cinema professionals participating in training projects. By way of example, the development stage of The Band’s Visit was supported during the first phase of the programme and its distribution in 7 European countries is now being supported by Euromed Cinemas, a project of the programme’s second phase.
Katriel Schory: The programme has helped in a very concrete way. In fact, it is a privilege to have professionals mentoring you through the development stages of your project, as happens in the Greenhouse or MEDA Film Development projects. We can already see the results and the benefits of this programme - and that’s aside from all the other benefits relating to enhanced dialogue, networking and cooperation among professionals in the region.
The American Sundance Film Institute came to the region and organised a writers and directors lab in Amman. But they are so far away and we don’t even have a great professional relationship with them because American cinema is so different. To have people all the way from California or Utah decide to put on a workshop for regional filmmakers and then see that perhaps Europe, which is on our doorstep, might not continue with the Euromed programme, seems really odd to me.
Euromed: You were part of the Reflection Group made up of 17 professionals and institutions from Europe and the southern Mediterranean. Within the framework of the Euromed Audiovisual programme, the Group drafted a working document called “Towards a Strategy for the Development of Euro-Mediterranean Audiovisual Cooperation”. The document was also discussed by the Euromed Ministers of Culture who met in Athens at the end of May. What main priorities and needs does this document underline?
Katriel Schory: The document focuses on education, training, development, marketing and distribution of films and so on. But what is important for me is that we also shed some light on how to create very simple support mechanisms on a country-by-country basis within the region. Of course, each of the countries and their regimes are very different. Each country has its own style of engagement, so that we have to come up with tailor-made schemes for each country and yet find ways to harmonise them to give hope to local filmmakers who would like to master this art form. People who dream of making a film need to know they have a door to knock on, even if just for small amounts of funding. That would make a difference. Everything is important, but at the end of the day it is all about making films. We can have great marketing and distribution mechanisms in place but what’s the point if there’s nothing coming from our filmmakers to market. Give them a chance to work, get trained and produce. I know the frustration when you sit on a script and have to wait for one, two or more years, knocking on endless doors. Then you go to see European producers and justifiably they say: “Yes, it’s a nice project, but did you manage to raise a penny in your own country?” It is also a matter of not coming to the table empty-handed. Being able to approach European producers and offering a “marriage of equals” puts you in a very different position.