AFTAU and Israel's Ministry of Tourism Show American Journalists the Cutting-Edge World of Israeli Film

Eye-opening trip reveals "Hollywood on the Mediterranean"

Erica Abeel and Danielle Berrin
The Huffington Post's Erica Abeel,
LA Jewish Journal's Danielle Berrin,
and unnamed camel

Six noted American arts-and-culture journalists enjoyed a unique tour of Israel with a focus on innovative Israeli cinema from June 1-9, 2012, guests of the Tourism Ministry of Israel and American Friends of Tel Aviv University. The film industry is on the frontier of creative techniques such as interactive cinema, and has produced the brains behind some of Hollywood's biggest hits, including HBO's In Treatment, Showtime's Homeland, and the Oscar-nominated movies Footnote and Waltz with Bashir.

The group included television and radio personality Joanna Langfield; Pat Saperstein, senior editor of Variety; indieWIRE, Huffington Post and columnist Erica Abeel; film critic Betsy Pickle; reviewer and interviewer Jennifer Merin; and Hollywood Jew blogger Danielle Berrin. An eye-opening look into Israeli culture, their tour proved that the innovative spirit that has made Israel famous in the world of business and entrepreneurship shines just as brightly in the arts and media.

Their itinerary included meetings with Tel Aviv University alumnus Gideon Raff, Executive Producer of Homeland at Keshet Broadcasting, a major Israeli media company; a session at the Israeli Film Fund, a non-profit that supports financing for independent films; and visits to two of Israel's storied movie palaces — the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

Cinematic innovation

Daniella Tourgeman, Lia van Leer, and Avinoam Harpak
Jewish Film Curator Danielle Tourgeman,
Jerusalem Cinematheque founder
and president Lia van Leer, and
Cinematheque artistic director
Avinoam Harpak

The journalists were guests of honor at the opening of Tel Aviv University's 14th International Student Film Festival, a bi-annual event that this year featured two conferences on integrating cutting-edge technology into the world of film — Interactive Cinema and New Media. During the festival, one of the largest and most respected in the world, the journalists met with some of the Department of Film and Television's most accomplished students and faculty members.

They attended the screening of Turbulence, the world's first-ever feature film with an interactive component. Directed by TAU faculty member Nitzan Ben-Shaul, the film revolves around the reunion of three friends who had been politically active during their school days. Using an Android/Apple application, the audience is invited to vote on plot direction at various points throughout the film. Currently being perfected by the faculty and students of the Department of Film and Television, the technology aims for a seamless integration of audience and art form.

Throughout the festival, there were also opportunities to learn from industry leaders about new media platforms, including Chris Horton of the Sundance Institute, who presented on the use of new channels of distribution to connect with audiences, and Arik Bernstein, long-time producer and founder of Alma Films who spoke about the growing use of the web for outstanding film projects such as Web Therapy and Gaza Sderot.

An unparalleled education

The journalists toured the TAU campus, and met with Department of Film and Television Head Prof. Reuven Hecker, and with Prof. Hannah Naveh, Dean of the Faculty of the Arts. They had a free-wheeling discussion with top students — including Film Festival co-director Elad Goldman — on topics including the diversification of film making in Israel, and cooperative projects with Palestinian filmmakers. They explored embracing themes beyond the traditional focus on war, such as origin and heritage, gender relations, and incorporating growing technological capability into their art, with particular emphasis on the project with TAU's Blavatnik School of Computer Science that adds the interactive component to film.

The journalists were intrigued by Coffee: Between Reality and Imagination, a joint project between Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers that explores cultural identity. Student writer-director Elite Zexer said that working on this project was the first time she had met Palestinians outside of Israel's borders. "It was an amazing experience," she said. "Confrontation was not a part of this project — it was an effort by people who believe that there should be collaboration on both sides." Prof. Hecker noted that in the future, the Department would like to matriculate a greater number of Arab and Palestinian students, and also add an International program to draw students from around the world.

For more arts and culture news from Tel Aviv University, click here.

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