×

Gay films thrive in Tel Aviv

Israeli government aims to be seen promoting liberal policy

Aside from being the epicenter of the Israel film industry, Tel Aviv is quickly earning a reputation as the hottest gay destination in the Middle East. Or, as screenwriter, producer and journalist Gal Uchovsky says, “It’s good to be gay in Israel.”

In some Middle East countries, being gay is cause for punishment, including a death penalty. However, Israel’s right-wing, conservative government is putting a great deal of resources into promoting the country as a place that accepts and welcomes homosexuals.

Tel Aviv, where 70,000 marched in this year’s Gay Pride parade, has long been a place where attitudes and dress codes are laid back and gay clubs are a prominent component of the city’s thriving nightlife.

So confident is Tel Aviv’s tourism association in the city’s appeal to the gay community that it recently launched a massive branding campaign, dubbed Tel Aviv Gay Vibe, hoping to entice gay and lesbian visitors from all over the world.

Tel Aviv hosts an industry that creates, produces and exports a disproportionate number of movies with gay themes and characters.

“Israelis have really accepted gays as a fact of life,” says Uchovsky. “And if you accept gays as a fact of life, there is glass ceiling. … When I come to pitch a series for cable, they know that I’m gay.”

Uchovsky and his longtime partner, director Eytan Fox, are the creative team behind “Walk on Water” (L’Lechet al HaMayim), the second-highest-grossing Israeli film in U.S. box office history, and the critically acclaimed “Yossi and Jagger.”

The two are prominent gay activists, and played a major role in Israel’s “gay revolution” of the late 1980s, which created an atmosphere of acceptance and equality.

“Because Israel is a small place and its film industry is small, a few very vocal and talented people in the industry — gay people — have played a significant role,” says Itai Pinkas, Tel Aviv city councilman and adviser to the mayor on LGBT affairs. “Artists really took the lead (in the late 1980s) and inspired people to go the courts (to fight) discrimination.”

In 1983, Amos Guttman made Israel’s first openly gay film, “Drifting” (Nagu’a), which tells the story of a lost young man with a dream of making it in the movies. By the time Guttman died of AIDS 10 years later at 38, a series of government reforms had made Israel a very different place for its gay citizens.

Another filmmaker, Assi Azar, a 32-year-old TV personality named one of the 100 Most Influential Gay People in the World by Out magazine, has spent the past month in the U.S. promoting his coming-out documentary “Mom & Dad: I Have Something to Tell You,” a government-backed project about the perils kids face when telling their parents they are gay.

Israel’s pro-homosexuals stance is admired by many, though some detractors say it is an attempt to divert attention from its treatment of Palestinians.

“Some people tell me, ‘They’re using your films, your liberal message of gay-oriented films as a fig leaf,’?” says Fox. “I’ve been accused of cooperating with the government or the establishment to create that fig leaf.”

Israeli films with gay subject matter are not, however, confined to secular themes.

“Eyes Wide Open” (Einayim Petuhot), which won the John Schlesinger Award at the 2010 Palm Springs Film Festival and the Grand Prix at the 2009 Ghent Film Festival, is about a married ultra-Orthodox father and husband tormented by his love for a younger man. Avi Nesher’s “The Secrets” (HaSodot), in which a lesbian love affair is just one forbidden arena explored by two students at an all-girls seminary in the mystical town of Safed, was nominated for the 2010 GLAAD award.

Fox believes that the government’s motivation for embracing the gay community is far less important than the results. “The fact that my films are as successful as they’ve been in Israel gives me hope that there is a potential to embrace the ‘other,’?” he says. “When I was growing up in Israel and when I started making films, the gay ‘other’ was almost as big a threat as a Palestinian or an Arab. So maybe I’m too optimistic, but I feel that the ability to love gay characters … one day will transfer itself to the ability to understand our neighbors, enemies, future friends.”

More Film

  • Peter Farrelly

    Peter Farrelly to Judge Sun Valley Film Festival's Film Lab Competition

    Sun Valley Film Festival has set “Green Book” director Peter Farrelly as the judge for the sixth annual Film Lab competition. The program, sponsored by Tito’s Handmade Vodka, which is in its sixth year, selects one team of filmmakers to work with the festival to complete their film projects. The director and producer of the [...]

  • The Lion King

    'The Lion King' Dominates, But Is Disney Running Low on Remakes?

    “The Lion King” and its massive $185 million domestic debut proved that audiences have an insatiable appetite for Disney’s remakes and re-imaginings. Despite mixed reviews, moviegoers turned out in force for director Jon Favreau’s hyper-realistic update of the classic cartoon. “The Lion King” broke numerous box office records, including the best start among Disney’s live-action [...]

  • The Fast and the Furious

    'Fast & Furious 9' Production Halted After Stuntman Injured in Fall on Set

    An accident on the set of Universal’s “Fast & Furious 9” in the United Kingdom has left a stuntman in hospital with a serious head injury. Production on the movie has halted at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, near London. “We had an injury on the set of ‘FAST 9’ today in Leavesden with one of [...]

  • Glenn Gainor to give keynote presentation

    Sony's Glenn Gainor Set as CinefestOZ Keynote Presenter

    Glenn Gainor, president of Sony Innovation Studios and head of physical production at Screen Gems, will deliver the keynote speech at the industry program of next month’s CinefestOZ Film Festival. The small but densely packed festival takes place in multiple venues near Busselton and Margaret River in West Australia. It runs Aug. 28-Sept. 1 and [...]

  • avengers-endgame-avatar-box-office-record

    James Cameron Salutes 'Avengers: Endgame' For Beating 'Avatar's' Box Office Record

    Director James Cameron may no longer be the reigning box office champion, but at least he’s gracious about passing the baton. Over the weekend, “Avengers: Endgame” officially dethroned “Avatar” to become the biggest movie in history. For a decade, Cameron’s dazzling sci-fi epic held the top spot with $2.7897 billion in global ticket sales, but [...]

  • A-Beautiful-Day-in-the-Neighborhood-Trailer

    Tom Hanks Channels Mister Rogers in 'Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood' Trailer

    It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood because Sony debuted the first trailer for its Mister Rogers movie starring Tom Hanks. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is inspired by a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers (Hanks) and Tom Junod (Matthew Rhys), a cynical journalist assigned to write a profile of the long-running television host. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content