Udi Ben Saadya says a new wave of young Israeli filmmakers is no longer tied to the constraints of predecessors. Photo by Ron Kaplan
February 07, 2008
Young Israeli filmmakers are anxious to create their own voice, free from the constraints and philosophies of the past, according to Udi Ben Saadya, a writer, theater director, and lecturer on the genre.
That work, he said, is being recognized on the highest levels, with awards from international film festivals and Oscar consideration.
Ben Saadya is no stranger to New Jersey; from 1994-97, he served as a shaliah (emissary) to the Jewish community in Cherry Hill. “Exit 4,” he recalled to the amusement of a group of movie devotees at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, where he led a discussion on Israeli Cinema Though the Eyes of Generation X.
Prior to his presentation, Ben Saadya, winner of an Acco Mayor award for playwriting, discussed the state of Israeli film with NJ Jewish News.
Israel derives its influence from both the United States and Europe, he said. “It’s very interesting. For many years filmmakers in Israel wanted to make films like in America, which somehow, I believe, drove them to a dead end, because you can do it much better in America. The struggle is to look and to find your own…authentic voice.”
Avoiding such influence was unavoidable “because America is everywhere,” he said. “But I believe there is now a new approach among the young people in Israel. They try to locate the influence from different sources.
“In many ways you can identify an Israeli film…because there’s always — whether you want it or not — some Jewish content, even if it’s on an unconscious or subconscious level.
“[Israeli films] always have to do with the past: immigrants, people looking for a new home in a new country; wherever you take it, you always get some kind of historical perspective,” Ben Saadya said. “It’s not only the entertainment. It’s always important to write a good story, but especially in the movies today, the amount of historical perspective is very big.”
Cinema has enjoyed a surge in popularity in Israel, Ben Saadya said, admitting somewhat sheepishly that the movies that have impressed him the most over the past year have been products of his homeland, something he couldn’t have conceived of just a few years ago. “And I’m not saying that because I’m a proud Israeli.” Ben Saadya cited one reason for this renaissance: the country’s excellent film schools at the university level and the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem.
“Before, you could have been impressed by the artistic content; now you can also be impressed by the way we do it, by the technology. We made a big jump in terms of knowing how to use the technological methods,” now on par with American filmmaking.
As in the United States, finding government support for the arts is also a constant consideration. “We’re always struggling,” said Ben Saadya. Right before his appearance at Ner Tamid, he said he had e-mailed an application for funding for his new play.
During his presentation, Ben Saadya showed clips from three films — the Oscar-nominated Beaufort, Joseph Cedar’s story of Israeli soldiers stationed in an outpost in Lebanon prior to the withdrawal of forces of 2000; Moadon beit hakvarot (The Cemetery Club), a documentary about a small group of elderly Israelis that meets weekly at the Mount Herzl National Cemetery in Jerusalem to discuss philosophy and other matters; and Souvenirs, an award-winning documentary in which the filmmaker learns about his father’s exploits — on and off the battlegrounds — as a member of the Jewish Brigade in World War II.