For the past 2-Â½ decades, Meir Fenigstein has been at the helm, introducing American audiences to Israeli films and Israeli filmmakers to American producers, production companies and distributors. In the beginning, it was unheard of for an Israeli film to obtain U.S. distribution, not so anymore. Films are fought over by several U.S. distribution companies, all because of the Israel Film Festival. The Festival has presented approximately 700 films, television dramas, documentaries and student shorts to 650,000 filmgoers over its 20-year history.
While the mission of the Festival has always been to celebrate the artistry of great Israeli Filmmakers, Festival presentations also teach tolerance, applaud diversity and promote greater understanding among all people worldwide. Film is the international language that speaks through brilliant images, human emotions and a universe of creative ideas. Meir Fenigstein and the Israel Film Festival allow us, the American film-going public the opportunity to experience Israeli society through the lenses of its talented filmmakers and “taste” Israel’s rich social and cultural diversity.
When Robert Redford founded the Sundance Film Festival in Provo, Utah, no one could have imaged that it would become the largest, most influential Industry film festival in the United States. Meir Fenigstein has done for Israeli films what Redford did for Independent films; put them on the map. Peter Dowd recently wrote “ … the fact that he (Avi Nesher) has risen to become one of Israel’s most prominent directors is a tribute to the festival’s very real impact on Israeli cinema and its connections to the world.”
Meir may have started the festival single-handedly and continues to direct its day-to-day operations with a small, dedicated staff, but he has garnered support from Hollywood’s elite, including, but not limited to, Steven Spielberg, Meyer Gottlieb, Robert DeNiro, Ron Meyer, Danny DeVito, Ted Turner, Goldie Hawn and Dustin Hoffman.
For the past five years, the Israel Film Festival has presented Lifetime Achievement and Visionary Awards to leaders of the American film industry. Honorees have included: Gale Anne Hurd, Norman Jewison, Matthew C. Blank (Pres & CEO of Showtime Networks), Laura Ziskin, Penny Marshall, Adam Greenberg (Cinematographer), Arthur Hiller, Larry King, Martin Richards, Milos Forman, Michael Fuchs, Mike Medavoy, Tom Rothman, Sidney Lumet, Arnon Milchan and Elie Wiesel. This year’s Honorees will be Bernie Brillstein, founding partner of Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, James Schamus and David Linde of Focus Features and Amos Gitai, Israel’s most acclaimed director. Each year the awards are presented by people such as Peter Bogdanovich, Garry Marshall, Ivan Reitman, Mayor Richard Riordan, Matthew Modine, Bette Midler, Kelly Preston, Cameron Diaz, Isabella Rossellini, Ashley Judd and Joel Schumacher at star studded Gala events.
Beyond all the glamour, movie stars and celebrities, Meir Fenigstein, through the Israel Film Festival, provides America with a view of Israel beyond the headlines while making available real opportunity for both cultural and economic exchange and advancement for both countries, With a budget of over $1.5 Million, a small dedicated staff, public relations, rave reviews from the entertainment trade papers, supplements in newspapers coast-to-coast and more than 250 sponsors that are dedicated to continuing the mission of Meir Fenigstein. The Israel Film Festival should continue to grow in reaching American audiences and sharing the vision of Israeli life and culture.
Cinema Without Borders: Please tell us about the “Israel Film Festival” background and how it started?
Meir Fenigstein: More than two decades ago, an Israeli rock star known as “Poogy” decided to create his own film festival. Poogy invested $35,000 of his own money into the venture and formed a fest designed to showcase the work of Israeli filmmakers.
CWB: Are only movies made in Israel participate in the Israel Film Festival or movies made by Israeli filmmakers made outside Israel have a chance to attend at the festival ?
Meir: Most of the films that are screened at our festival were made in Israel in the last 12-18 months. On occasion a film made my an Israeli filmmaker outside of Israel will be exhibited.
CWB: How many movies are sent each year for the festival and how do you select the movies for the festival screening?
Meir: We receive close to 100 films per year and we have a staff of programmers that screen each film and give it a rating. We then discuss all the films and pick the best films that suit our festival.
CWB: Please tell us about your experience with “Israel Film Festival” in 2006, movies screened and guests that attended the festival. Were there any awards given?
Meir: This festival is our biggest and best so far. We are honored to have such films like Sweet Mud, Dear Mr. Waldman, Aviva My Love and great docs like Storm of Emotions. We also held our inagural Gala Dinner where we honored Amy Pascal, Gila Almagor, and Sacha Baron Cohen.
CWB: What are the plans for the current “22nd Israel Film Festival”?
Meir: We take our festival to Miami April 26th -May 3rd and to New York on June 6-21
CWB: Does “Israel Film Festival” has any sponsors and supporters?
Meir: We have a lot of generous supporters. You can find a complete list on our website ( http://israelfilmfestival.com/iff07/our_sponsors.aspx)
CWB: What movies we should look for in “22nd Israel Polish Film Festival”? I mean movies that have had success i major international festivals.
Meir: Sweet Mudd was a grand prize jury winner at this years Sundance Film Festival. It also won an award at the Berlin Film Festival. Aviva My Love was a huge success in Israel.
CWB: What are your future plans for “Israel Film Festival”?
Meir: I want to continue the growth of the festival and continue bringing exposure to all of the talented hard working Israeli filmmakers.
CWB: Thank you for your time.