Arts & Culture Israeli, Palestinian Filmmakers to Compete for Europe’s ‘oscars’

In a move meant to promote peace through art, the European Film Academy has decided that it will accept Israelis and Palestinians as members.

Representatives of the two groups celebrated the news, which was announced Tuesday at the Berlin International Film Festival. The move means that both Israelis and Palestinians will be eligible for Europe’s equivalent of the Academy Awards.

Humbert Balsan, chairman of the board of the Berlin-based academy, said the move is part of a trend toward embracing “Mediterranean countries who have natural and historical cinema relations with Europe.”

The reaction among Israelis at the 54th annual Berlin festival was ecstatic.

“For the first time, Israeli cinema is getting a context,” Renen Schorr, founding director of the Sam Spiegel Film &

Television School in Jerusalem, told JTA after a podium discussion on “Israeli filmmakers: Their role and search for identity in an ongoing conflict.”

Israeli director Amos Gitai said, “Every gesture of creating a stage of cooperation and dialogue will serve as a model.”

Deborah Ben David, cultural attache of the Israeli Embassy in Berlin, said, “It’s very nice to be part of something like this.”

She noted that Israel already is included in the Eurovision song competition, the European Broadcasting Service and European soccer championships. “We are part of European culture,” she said.

Palestinian filmmaker George Ibrahim said in a statement that he sees the decision as “a great push for Palestinian artists.”

The decision assumes the eventual existence of an independent Palestinian state — and Marion Doering, director of the European Film Academy, said she was pleased to be out in front on that issue.

Germany’s foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, also has proposed a Mediterranean free-trade zone that would include Israel and a future Palestinian state.

“We have always been a step ahead of the politics,” Doering said in an interview. “And this is good, because I think film is really an important bridge for understanding and can help in all world conflicts.”

Dan Fainaru, the film critic who moderated Tuesday’s podium discussion on Israeli film, said that Israel today is a land of many conflicts. Aside from the one with the Palestinians, Israelis have to deal with ethnic confrontations, generational clashes and debates about the impact of the Holocaust — “which used to be a taboo in Israeli cinema and now is discussed right, left and middle,” he said.

While such issues are turning up more in films these days, Schorr said he also has been receiving more scripts dealing with suicide bombings and personal stories from both Jewish and Arab students at the film school.

The scripts “are becoming more relevant,” he said.

David Fisher, general director of the New Israeli Foundation for Cinema and TV, said he has films in the works by both Jews and Arabs.

“We ask them to be opinionated. Nobody asks them to be objective,” he said.

“The duty of filmmakers today is to bear witness to the reality,” said Lia van Leer, founder of the Jerusalem Cinematheque and the Israeli Film Archive and director of the International Film Festival in Jerusalem.

Van Leer said she had been accused of being a propagandist for Palestinians by showing their films at her festivals. But such films “have to be shown not only abroad but also in Israel, so we can know how they feel,” she said.

There are eight Israeli films in this year’s Berlin festival, including some that deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Festival spokesmen said they didn’t know if there were any films by Palestinian directors.

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