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Not just the conflict: Film festival shows other side of Israel to global audience

Seret International Film Festival
Ruthe Zuntz
The boycott-busting event also provides Israeli filmmakers with a chance to meet European investors

A recent achievement at the Venice Film Festival solidified the standing of the Israeli film industry as critically-acclaimed, however for the broader international audience, reluctant to read subtitles, Hebrew-language films often remain a mystery. The Israeli film festival Seret International, taking place in Germany this weekend, wishes to change that, one city at a time.

Seret International was founded six years ago in London and has since spread to Amsterdam, Santiago, and last year – to Berlin. Following its success, this year organizers added screenings in Munich and Cologne, to accommodate the vast interest.

Israelis living abroad are grateful for the rare opportunity to see films in their native tongue on the big screen, say organizers, but the festival's target audience is much broader than that.

“We are looking for people that just love films, that would come to see Italian or French films, and we want to show them that Israeli films are just as good and maybe even better, considering how many awards they win,” explained organizer Anat Koren to i24NEWS.

Koren, a London-based journalist, founded the festival together with marketing manager Odelia Haroush and Patty Hochmann, a member of the Israeli Film Academy. The three self-proclaimed film buffs view the festival as the perfect combination of their passion for films and their love for Israel – a country more genuinely portrayed in cinema than in the news, they believe.

Ruthe Zuntz

“We really want to show the audience what Israel is all about,” added Haroush. “Not just what they listen to or see on the BBC or CNN, but to show them the cultural and the social diversity that exists in Israel through the medium of film.”

Koren explained further: “I see in London that people have not enough knowledge about Israel,” she said, “and it's a very good way for people that are not coming to Israel, to bring Israel to them. So when we bring the directors to talk about the films, they also talk about life in Israel, and we have some amazing reactions from the public.”

Two years ago the festival in London evoked controversy, after 40 filmmakers, including acclaimed directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, published a letter calling for a boycott of the festival and labeling the cinemas that host screenings “silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people.”

But the protest only ended up sparking a wave of support for the festival, stressed Koren, after the cinemas rejected the demand and the event won positive coverage in the British press. Also the pro-Palestinian demonstrators, that once gathered outside every opening night event, have since disappeared, she noted.

Polina Garaev/i24NEWS

“Israeli cinema has been able to provide a very accurate expression of Israel's subconscious,” noted Israel's Ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, at the festival's opening night in Berlin. “The issues that we deal with on a day-to-day basis, the debates and arguments we have within Israel, our core values and dilemmas – this is really an amazing expression of what Israel is.”

The festival is not only an opportunity for moviegoers, but also for Israeli filmmakers seeking exposure overseas. As well as Q&A sessions with the audience, they also take part in an industry networking event in Berlin – their chance to catch the eye of potential producers and distributors.

“The opportunity when you see people in Europe is great,” explained Alon Schwarz, director and producer of “Aida's Secrets,” one of the films shown in the festival. The German-Israeli co-production was born following a meeting at another festival.

“Always when you meet people at these industry events, it's a personal connection that you have. They have to love your story, and then you wait a long time till they decide - but it's always an opportunity when you meet such people.”

Amos Geva, a Berlin-based international producer who orchestrated the mingling event, agrees. “Israel enjoys a great film industry as far as the creative side, but it is a small industry financially,” he said. “So Israel really needs international co-productions in order to make Israeli cinema what it is.”

Polina Garaev is the i24NEWS correspondent in Germany

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