It all began in 1977 when a group of young filmmakers, amongst them Judd Neeman (the former Dean of the Tel-Aviv University Film department), Renen Schorr (the founder and director of the Sam Spiegel Jerusalem Film School), Ram Levi, Nissim Dayan, Uzi Peres and others voiced their need to create a public support system for more personal art house cinema independent and free of pure commercial interests.
Their initiative to establish a public fund for the support of "Quality" Israeli films was brought to the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) following which the establishment of the Israel Quality film fund was declared in 1979. The establishment of the Fund ignited a new spirit amongst the Israeli filmmakers and led to the production of films with a local and distinct new cinematic language. The films produced with the support of the fund brought to the screen characters and themes that were rarely presented before: the assimilation difficulties in an immigrant's society; the complex relations between Jews and Arabs; the impact of the Holocaust; religious versus secular cultures; the service in the Israeli military and many others.
Since its establishment in 1979 and up to 1999 the fund's managing directors were Mr. Baruch Dienar, Ms. Nili Hameiri and Mr. Naftali Alter, all well-known professional filmmakers who sought ways to establish a creative and productive ground for production.
In 1999 the producer Katriel Schory was appointed executive Director and David Lipkind, Head of productions and finance. Mr. Jacob Perry was appointed as the Chairman of the Board. Their first action was to change the name of the fund to the "Israel Film Fund". The decision grew out of the understanding that cinema is an expressive artistic art form that relates to all the filmmakers and audiences in Israel. The Fund's director's belief was and is, that the Fund should act as a "Home" for all Israeli filmmakers and it’s local audience. Following which the fund has taken upon itself among others, the task of giving an equal chance also to new and unknown directors, establishing new support categories for specific genres (comedies, thrillers etc.), as well as strengthening the ties between the Israeli cinema and it's local audience.
The 80's -
The 80's cinema brought forth a line of talented first time filmmakers most of them with a strong political commitment; they told personal stories mostly deriving from the social and political situation of a country that within 30 years of existence went trough 3 wars.
Uri Barabash dealt in his films with social and political issues and dilemmas touching on themes such as the military, war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 1984 he directed the award winning highly acclaimed film "Beyond the Walls". The film portrayed the relationships between a group of Jewish and Arab prisoners in a prison run by a tough prison commander. "Beyond the Walls" was nominated for the Oscar foreign language film in 1984.
Among the films touching on the theme of Arab/Jewish relationships and war were "Hamsin" (dir. by Danny Waksman), "A Narrow Bridge" (dir. by Nissim Dayan), "Time of cherries"(dir. by Haim Bouzaglo), "Green Fields" (dir. by Zeppel Yeshurun) and Rafee Bukai's highly acclaimed "Avanti Popolo" a sad comic film on the encounter in the desert between Israeli and Egyptian soldiers during the Six day war. The film won the Golden Leopard at the 1986 Locarno film festival.
The 80's cinema also reflected on social themes such as the Holocaust; "Tel Aviv Berlin" (dir. by Zippi Trope) and "The Summer of Aviya" (dir. by Eli Cohen) which received a Silver Bear at the 1989 Berlin film festival.
The directors of the 80's stood out for their creative and personal story telling cinema: Michal Bat Adam created intimate personal drams such as "On a thin Line", Eitan Green told very human and touching stories in "Lena" and "Until the end of the Night". Renen Schorr directed "Late Summer Blues" a nostalgic film on the end of youth, high school, and the end of an era - before the recruitment to the army.
The 90's -
In the beginning of the 90's, many Israeli films told stories coming from and taking place in the city of Tel Aviv. It took almost a decade for the stories to break loose of the city and deal and present regions, people and locations from all over Israel. The filmmaker that presented these two trends in his films was Savi Gabizon. In 1990 he directed "Shuru", a postmodern, colorful and surreal film that presented Tel Aviv as a place with no nationality. The film was a huge success and a wave of "Tel Avivian" films followed with films such as "The Song of the Siren" (dir. by Eitan Fox), "Tel Aviv Stories" (dir. by Ayelet Menachemi, Nirit Yaron), "Eddie King" (dir. by Gidi Dar), "Urban Feel" (dir. by Yehonatan Segal) and "Life According To Agfa" (dir. by Assi Dayan) which presented Tel Aviv as an apocalyptic claustrophobic city. The film was a huge success and was chosen by the critics as one of the best Israeli films of the decade.
Amos Gutman was one of the first directors who dealt in his gentle and poetic cinema with the theme of homosexuality. In 1992 he directed "Amazing Grace" which was one of the first Israeli films on AIDS.
In "Love sick on Nana St." (1995) Gabizon uprooted the lead character from Tel Aviv and located him in a small provincial town, a location that almost disappeared from Israeli cinema. Following this film a new wave of films taking place in the outskirts and small towns of Israel appeared on the screen. Amongst them "Afula Express" (dir. by Julie Shlez), "Province United" (dir. by Ori Inbar) and "Desperado Square"(dir. by Benny Toraty).
During these years the Israeli local audience shied away from Israeli cinema. Despite of the fact that good, interesting and thought provoking films were made many of the films did not gain the local audience attention.
With the growing power of commercial and cable TV, the Israeli filmmakers formulated and lobbied for implementing a new "cinema Law" - an allocation of 50% of the license fees paid by commercial and cable TV to the government to support the local film Industry.
With the help of a strong lobby in the Israeli parliament the law passed in 2001 injecting new energies to the industry and giving hope to the young generation that came out of the increasing number of film schools.
The cinema law increased the annual budget of the Israel Film Fund and this enabled the Fund to double the number of feature films it supported up to 16 films per year. Quantity led to Quality.
The decade opened with a film that turned into a big local and international success, Dover Koshashvili's "Late Marriage". The film which spoke Georgian put a spotlight on a closed nit Georgian family. The hero of the film has to decide whether to stay faithful to his family tradition or be faithful to his heart and the woman he loves. The film was the first Israeli film after almost a decade to be screened in Cannes in the Un certain Regard category. "Broken Wings", Nir Bergman's film released in 2002 also dealt with family relations and presented the story of a widowed mother of three picking up the pieces of her broken family. The film was a huge success at the local box office and received the Grand Prize at the 2002 Tokyo intl. film festival.
These two films mark the begging of a very significant decade for Israeli cinema in which many of the films received acclaim both from the local audience and audiences around the world, amongst them: "The Syrian Bride" (dir. by Eran Riklis) which received a grand screening at the Piazza Grande in Locarno; "Year Zero" (dir. by Joseph Pitchadze); "Nina's Tragedies" (dir. by: Savi Gabizon), a film in which Gabizon returned to a melancholic and romantic Tel Aviv;" Ushpizin" (dir. by Gidi Dar) ; "Turn Left at the End of the World" (dir. by Avi Nehser) a huge box office success in Israel with over 500,000 tickets sold at the cinemas! "Jellyfish" (directed by Shira Geffen & Etgar Keret) which received the Camera D'Or in Cannes 2007 and "The Bands Visit" which was screened in the Un Certain Regard Category and received the "Coup de Coeur" award and the "Fipresci" award. "Sweet Mud" Dror Shaul's depiction of Kibbutz life was the first Israeli film to be developed at the Sundance screenwriters lab and was screened at the 2007 Sundance film festival, where it won the best film award in the international section.
During three years in a row 2008 – 2009 – 2010 three Israeli films were nominated for the Best foreign film at the Oscars. Among them "Waltz with Bashir" (2008, dir. by Ari Folman) and "Ajami" (2010, dir. by Scandar Kopti and Yaron Shani) were produced with the support of the fund.
"Lebanon", Samuel Maoz's film telling the story of a tank crew in the Lebanon war was the first Israeli film ever to receive the Golden Lion in Venice (2009) and more than 25 awards worldwide.
From the beginning of the 21th century Israeli cinema has gone through a period, which is fair to call, dramatic as it regained recognition and acclaim in Israel and throughout the world. A decade after the legislation of the cinema law in 2000, Israeli cinema has established itself as a major and leading art form in Israel dealing with the most relevant, challenging and often controversial issues and stories.
Internationally, Israeli feature films have managed to make the cross over and touch the hearts and souls of hundreds of thousands of viewers throughout the world. Israeli feature films are screened in the official competitions of the most celebrated International film festivals.