Young Film Makers to Produce Films About Israel, American Jewish Community

“Make a movie–on us,” the blue poster with a white Star of David in the center invites. And the “us” refers to Israel and contemporary Jewish life as well as to Encounter Films, Inc., a non-profit organization recently formed to encourage the making and distribution of films of Jewish interest. S. Allan Sugarman, Encounter’s part-time administrative director, says that the group’s “immediate” goal is to counter-balance the effect of pro-Arab material which has become increasingly available and popular on American college campuses since the Six-Day War in 1967. Thus, Encounter has been holding and planning fund-raising meetings at which pro-Arab films and literature are displayed “to show what the other side’s doing,” Sugarman said. But he added that Encounter does not intend to limit itself to this purpose alone. Encounter hopes to stimulate the production of fresh, creative films about Jewish life generally.

The idea for Encounter Films came out of a meeting held at actor-singer Theodors Bikel’s home about a year ago, according to Sugarman. He said that Bikel and others, including members of the American Jewish Congress, realized that except for sentimental message or public relations films made for established Jewish organizations, there are no films which present Israel and the American Jewish community in a positive light. And those which are produced are viewed by the campus generations as mere propaganda. So, Sugarman said, it was decided to set up an independent film company to raise money and distribute it to “creative filmmakers” who could then produce movies unencumbered by the limitations of institutional sponsorship. When completed, the films which are expected to be between 15 and 30 minutes long, will be examined by Encounter. If acceptable, they will be distributed, mostly free of charge, to campuses and individual Jewish organizations around the country. If a film is unacceptable, the filmmaker will not be required to reimburse Encounter for the money spent making it. Even before Encounter began widely distributing its major publicity poster earlier this month, almost 40 applications for funds had been received.

FILM IDEAS: ALIYA, LOVE ISRAELI STYLE, SOVIET JEWS IN ISRAEL, NEW LIFE STYLES

Because only $25,000 of the group’s initial $100,000 goal has been raised thus far, only two grants, probably between $10,000 and $20,000, will be made in the immediate future. But Sugarman emphasizes to all those submitting ideas for films that as more money is raised, more will be given out. The applicants, who do not have to be Jewish, range from film students to award-winning professionals with years of experience. Sugarman says that most have had “little or no involvement with the Jewish community, but are moved to get involved in this project” because it gives them a chance to make films which reflect their own ideas and style and not those of a sponsor. Their proposals indicate a positive and sensitive approach to Israel and Judaism. Yet within the context there is also a desire to honestly examine and question various aspects of Jewish life. One applicant wants to film a love story between a Moroccan girl and a Sabra, highlighting the conflict between Ashkenazim and Sephardim in Israel. The Song of Songs would be used as an underlying motif. At least two proposals involve immigrants to Israel. One suggests looking at what happens to Soviet Jews after they arrive in Israel. The other, submitted by Jon Green, a 27-year-old Philadelphian who has already made “Chusid” and “Shlomo” (about Shlomo Carlebach) under non-Jewish auspices, focuses on Americans embarking upon aliya.

A former American Broadcasting Company documentary filmmaker hopes to put together a love story on Jerusalem, demonstrating the unity of the city’s Christian, Jewish and Moslem segments. Other filmmakers have expressed the desire to make movies on alternative Jewish life-styles in the United States, such as havurot, and one applicant would like to deal with the role of Jews in contemporary American protest movements in order to select those to be awarded the initial grants, Sugarman views the applicants’ past works and also interviews them. He said the final decisions would be made by an advisory committee which includes Eli Abel, dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, film producers Zvi Kolitz and Amram Nowak, author Joseph Heller and actor Eli Wallach. Through the cooperation of Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Agency, services such as air fare to Israel, lodging and transportation in Israel, technical advice, and film processing facilities may be made available to those filmmakers chosen at reduced cost. In this way Encounter hopes to insure higher film quality than is normally associated with such low budget productions.

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