Israeli film fund produced 14 pics in '01

TEL AVIV — Israeli film and TV producers continue to churn out movies and TV shows, but just about every other aspect of the biz has suffered during the worsening Mideast crisis.

Box office is down, ad revenues are off and foreign shoots have dried up.

But despite the gloomy affect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Israeli Film Fund helped provide a record slate of 14 pics for a total of $8 million in 2001. Its yearly average the previous decade was 10 pics for a total subsidy of $2.5 million.

The increase is a result of a new film law that allocates 50% of commercial TV annual license fees to a specially created Film Council. The council in turn designates the money for film subsidies, festivals and other cinema-related cultural institutions.

In 2002, due to a decrease in TV revenues, the Film Fund will fork out $5.8 million for just 10 film projects.

Budgets of local pics range between $500,000-$750,000 and are mostly financed through the Film Fund and the pre-sale of TV rights.

Most local pics, though, flop at the box office and rarely travel.

The only recent breakout hit was Dover Kosashvili’s “Late Marriage,” which grossed close to $2 million at the local box office and has had modest distribution success abroad.

Whether films are any good or not, the wave of suicide bombings hitting the country this year has kept audiences away from moviehouses. Grosses dropped to $30 million over the first six months of the year, down 30% from the same frame in 2001.

“The problem lies in the range of pics coming from the U.S after Sept 11 (of 2001),” says Yoram Globus, owner of the country’s largest cinema chain and chairman of the local exhib org, the Cinema Industry Assn. (CIA).

Globus suggested that the range of U.S. pics in release is not as wide as last year, when films like “Harry Potter” and “Shrek” dominated the local B.O.

The unstable situation in the country and the global recession have also caused advertising on TV to drop 10% ($163 million projected for 2002) from last year. The slide continues a steady decline since 2000, when the second Intifada started.

Nonetheless, TV production continues apace since it’s regulated by the government (43% of programming must be local), and new broadcast players — including a second commercial TV station and a dozen cable and satellite channels — have popped up.

“In times of crisis, the public prefers local programs — they boost the national moral,” says Uzi Peled, CEO of commercial station Telad.

That station has packed its primetime sked with locally made fare — even though it costs up to 50 times more than imported U.S. and U.K. shows.

The branch of the Israeli industry that has suffered the most from the ongoing turmoil, however, is the supply of local production services for international pics.

Israel used to be a favored Middle East location (“Sahara,” “Rambo III”), attracting as many as four shoots each year. In the past two years, all scheduled productions have been nixed in favor of safer locales.

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