Not just a ‘footnote’ in Israeli cinema

January 28, 2012 - 6:35 PM by

From right: director Joseph Cedar, actor Shlomo Bar Aba, and producer Moshe Edry stand together during a press conference after the film 'Footnote' was nominated for an Oscar last week. (AP)

It’s happened four times now in the past five years. An Israeli film has been nominated for an Oscar. And this year’s entry, Joseph Cedar’s Footnote, seems to have the best chance yet of bringing Israel its first Academy Award.

Cedar, an American-born Israeli, who also directed the 2008 Oscar entry, the Lebanon war film Beaufort, focused Footnote on something completely different – on two professors of Talmud, a father and son, dueling for academic prestige and the prestigious Israel Prize.

It doesn’t sound like standard fare for a gripping movie, but it is, thanks to a winning script and ace acting by stars Lior Ashkenazi and Shlomo Baraba.

“‘Footnote’ deals with the question of what happens when, while you’re living your daily life, a prize is offered, which really takes over your moral reasoning and changes your perspective and sometimes completely destroys your perspective,” Cedar told TIME magazine, summarizing the film’s main plot line.

TIME devoted a story to Israel’s booming film industry – stating that “the budgets are bare-bones and the talent pool is limited, but Israel has emerged as a surprising powerhouse in the foreign film industry.”

It notes that many of the country’s film deal with the Israeli-Arab conflict, citing the last three Israeli films that made it to the Oscar shortlist – Cedar’s Beaufort, nominated, and 2009’s animated Waltz with Bashir, both explored Israeli soldiers’ experiences in Lebanon. Ajami, the 2010 nominee, centers on Arab-Jewish tensions in violence-ridden Jaffa.

The article details the history and struggles the Israeli film industry has and continues to deal with, regarding funding, and how in the late 1990s, when the industry was at a nadir, the Israel Film Fund was created and received government backing to develop new filmmakers, Cedar among them.

The Israel Film Fund supported his first feature, “Time of Favor,” which debuted in 2000.

“We didn’t know him, but he had enthusiasm. There was something about his passion,” said Katriel Schory, executive director of the national fund. “We took a chance.”

The chance has certainly paid off, and we’ll see if it results in Israel’s first Academy Award.

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