New JCC Manhattan Role: Funding Israeli Films


Despite a blossoming international reputation over the last 25 years and major growth in the past decade, the Israeli film industry suffers from a scarcity of funding. However, help is starting to arrive from a most unlikely source — the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan.

The connection isn’t as obscure as it sounds. The JCC has long been home to the Israel Film Center, the leading resource for Israeli film in the United States and, as Isaac Zablocki, the center’s director, noted in a phone interview last week, film programming has always been an integral part of the JCC’s identity. So the Film Center’s development of a fund to help Israeli filmmakers find money is a logical extension of its mandate.

The Israel Film Center Fund has quietly been putting together a group of potential investors and connecting them to film people looking for end money, finishing funds for films in post-production, “where it’s often needed the most,” he said.

Zablocki explained, “A lot of Americans support Israeli filmmakers through private foundations or by privately putting their names on Israeli films. There’s a need for this to be more guided, more of a system. That’s something we can provide. A lot of people want to support Israeli cinema, and this will open opportunities for them.”

At the present, Zablocki and the board of the fund are considering a $10,000 buy-in for prospective investors, although he was candid in suggesting it could be higher.

“We are expecting a higher amount from multiple donors,” he said. “As for a ceiling on the grants we make, that will be based on how many films we are involved with, probably five to ten per year.”

In fact, although it’s very early in the existence of the fund, Zablocki has already received six submissions and some of the films in question are almost completed, “probably before 2020.”

There has been a significant amount of controversy around the Israeli government’s funding of filmmaking through the culture ministry, virtually all of it revolving around the government’s perception that some of the films it has aided in the past are “hostile” to the State of Israel. The Israel Film Center Fund, on the other hand, will try to sidestep political issues.

Israeli films have already been receiving significant funding from European sources. Those arrangements are part of the legacy of Katriel Schory, director of the Jerusalem-based Israel Film Fund for 20 years, who resigned this spring in protest of the ministry’s policies.

Asked about the political controversies, Zablocki said, “We’ll be sensitive to films that the government is choosing not to fund [due to issues of content], but we’ll also support worthy films that the government is also funding.”

He added, “There are also plenty of Jewish films being made about Israel [by non-Israelis] that would also be eligible for funding from us. If there’s enough of a connection to Israel, we would want to support them.”

The goal, Zablocki stressed, “is to support all kinds of Israeli cinema.”