Tensions are running high across Israel as the worst fighting in years between Israelis and Palestinians shows no signs of abating, and relentless rocket fire from Gaza has sent citizens of every major city, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, routinely running for cover. The entertainment industry is starting to feel the sting.
At the start of the Jerusalem Film Festival last week, new fest director Noa Regev had no choice but to kick things off by announcing where the bomb shelters are located in the Jerusalem Cinematheque complex.
The JFF, which was banking on 2014 as a comeback event after a handful of difficult years, has seen attendance dip by as much by 20%.
“The screenings have not been empty by any means, but clearly they were hoping this was going to be a great year, and it hasn’t been,” said Jordan Hoffman, a New York-based film writer attending the festival.
Fest’s outdoor opening-night screening was pushed back one week due to the fighting; as the conflict drags on, execs are now saying that the event, rescheduled for Thursday, will have to be held inside.
Earlier this week, Tel Aviv officials scrubbed a much-anticipated Neil Young concert, also planned for Thursday, citing the 40,000-person outdoor event as too much of a security risk.
“Dig,” the upcoming USA drama lensing in Jerusalem, is on a pre-scheduled hiatus, and execs at Keshet Media Group, which developed the program, insist filming has not been affected.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat would not formally comment on how the conflict is affecting film productions in Israel’s capital, instead directing questions to Yoram Honig, director of the Jerusalem Film Fund, who said, “There are no changes to any of our productions. Everything is on schedule as it should be.”
But “Dig” creator Gideon Raff showed some doubts. Speaking at the Summer TCA Press Tour on Monday at the Beverly Hilton, Raff, a Jerusalem native who also executive produced Showtime’s “Homeland,” admitted the conflict had caught him and his team off guard.
“We chose to shoot in Jerusalem because of all the history it has and the secrets buried underground,” he said. “We are assessing and the network and the studio are looking at all options.”
Raff also created “Tyrant,” the freshman Middle East-set drama currently airing on FX from Fox 21, FX Productions, Keshet and Teakwood Lane Productions. Fox 21 recently released a statement saying that the show has temporarily relocated production from Israel to Turkey for safety reasons. Production on the show’s remaining two episodes was scheduled to wrap on July 28, but that date will likely change.
Barkat and Keshet together campaigned furiously to bring “Dig” to Jerusalem, going so far as to create a special 22 million shekel ($6.2 million) production grant to help sweeten the deal. The show, which focuses on an American FBI agent who stumbles on a conspiracy theory while investigating a murder in Jerusalem, is intricately tied to the city and its ancient archeology; should production have to be moved to an alternative location, its creators would be devastated.
“Hopefully everything will calm down and we’ll go back to what we planned,” Raff added at TCA. “If not, we’ll sort it out.”
On Israeli television, the conflict has also started to seep onto the smallscreen. Last week, the producers of Israel’s “Big Brother” — which traditionally imposes a total media blackout on its cast — had to make the decision to inform its cast members of the deteriorating security situation after sirens wailed in the “Big Brother” house’s Jerusalem neighborhood and members were sent scurrying into bomb shelters.
Nearby at the Jerusalem Film Festival, one screening held minutes after an air raid siren went off was almost completely empty, but press and guests alike, Hoffman said, are trying to take it all in stride.
“You know, you go to Sundance and you’re worried you’re going to slip on the ice. And this whole situation is in a whole different category,” he said. “So we’re a little anxious, but trying to joke about it.”