Few have done as much to promote and support Israeli cinema as Katriel Schory.
The Israeli Film Fund topper, who has been the exec director of the country’s biggest public fund since 1999, has created a reputation for nurturing debut helmers and striking co-production deals with France, Germany, Canada and Australia.
“The job is not easy,” Schory says. “I send rejection letters to 90% of the filmmakers who apply for funds, but the good news is that now we receive about 130 scripts every year. In 2000 we only used to get between 40 and 50, so it shows there is hope.”
Born in 1947, Schory graduated from NYU’s film school and returned to Israel to head up production with Kastel Films, at the time the country’s largest shingle.
After a stint in the U.S. as Washington bureau producer with German pubcaster ZDF, Schory became associate and line producer on “Beyond the Walls,” which won the Fipresci Prize at the 1984 Venice fest and received an Oscar nomination for foreign language film in 1985.
From there, he became managing director of Israeli shingle Belfilms, producing more than 200 features, docus and TV dramas, before joining the Israeli Film Fund.
It’s a journey that has seen Schory witness the evolution of the Israeli film biz from near disaster to international recognition and acclaim.
“In 1999, only 0.3% of the Israeli box office was made up of ticket sales for Israeli films. We only sold 36,000 tickets (for local pics) out of 10 million admissions. We were finished,” Schory says. “People would mock and laugh at me when I said give Israeli cinema another chance. But now we’re up to over 1 million tickets sold for Israeli films a year. We re-introduced Israeli cinema to its public and also brought Israeli films to festivals, helping to pay for the subtitles, marketing and the flight costs.
“We pushed for international co-productions so that now 44% of the money that Israeli films receive comes from overseas.”
Schory, of course, has not been the only reason for Israeli cinema’s resurgence.
The introduction in the 1990s of cable and commercial TV in Israel — previously there had been just one state-run channel — gave writers, directors and thesps hundreds of hours of airtime to fill with programs and enabled them to hone their craft.
The government’s introduction in 2000 of a cinema law — which Schory lobbied for — also increased the level of coin that both the Israeli Film Fund and the smaller Tel Aviv Rabinovitch fund received.
Where Schory may have made his most crucial intervention, however, was with his emphasis on fostering new talent.
“My predecessor’s prime consideration in supporting a film was the script. I decided that while the script was extremely important, it wasn’t more important than the director, producer and whole production package,” Schory says. “We wanted to support overall packages, especially in a country where without public funding there’s almost no way to make your film.”
While Israeli cinema is experiencing its most prosperous returns in years, both at home and abroad, Schory has been around long enough to know how quickly the tide can turn.
What’s more, with Israel’s precarious political situation — the coalition government is teetering after a scathing report on last year’s war with Lebanon as well as series of corruption scandals that have reached the prime minister’s office — Schory is locked in a constant battle to safeguard the fund’s $7.5 million annual budget from government cuts.
“The government hates my guts because I’m always keeping its influence away,” Schory says. “There has never been a single politician who woke up in the morning and said cinema was important. In the end if there is a secret to what we’ve achieved, it’s in the fact that we worked together as an industry, lobbied together and stayed united.”