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Israel’s Made for Web Film Contest Highlights Future of Content Creation

At the fourth annual Hong Kong Intl. Mobile Film Awards in March, more than half of the films competing for prizes were products of Israel, created for a new Internet film competition that brought together the Israeli government, entertainment and tech industries in a bid to push filmmaking onto smartphones and into the future.

Dubbed Made for Web, the Israeli competition debuted at last summer’s Jerusalem Film Festival as part of a nationwide call for films that can be viewed not just on television screens and in movie halls, but also on handheld devices. A brainchild of the Israeli Film and Television Producers Assn., which partnered with Google and the Israeli Ministry of Economy, the contest called on local filmmakers and animators to think beyond typical media consumption and instead make movies that can be viewed anytime, anywhere, on a smartphone screen or tablet.

Where you see a movie is not as important as what you see,” says Jonathan Levy, head of the Digital Media at Israel’s Ministry of Economy. “We wanted to inform the filmmakers in Israel — the moviemakers and the people on the video side of things — about the opportunities on the Web.”

Such an event makes sense in Israel, says Made for Web director Ari Davidovich, because the nation has long been on the forefront of entertainment innovation, with its imprint most strongly felt in global television formats. “Be Tipul” has been adapted throughout Europe and in the U.S. by HBO as “In Treatment.” Showtime’s “Homeland” is based on Israel’s “Hatufim.” Fox recently purchased Keshet gameshow “Boom!” and TBS has ordered the sitcom “Your Family or Mine.” NBC, ABC and CBS all have Israeli formats in development, and AOL has slated “Connected,” which follows five young New Yorkers shooting video of their lives, as its first longform program.

Creative thinking is a virtue in Tel Aviv, Davidovich notes, where one can hardly walk 50 feet without stumbling over a startup or a group of entrepreneurs brainstorming over coffee. “In other places, there is still some embarrassment regarding creation (of content) for the Web, because people don’t really know what’s going on there,” he says. “It takes chutzpah to push boundaries. When you are too rigid, you just make the same story over and over again. But Israelis are not afraid to try and they are not afraid to fail.”

Google, which owns YouTube and operates two Israeli offices, was an obvious partner for the project, Levy says. “The multinational companies here are very significant players in the ecosystem,” he explains. “It’s a meeting of interests. There are a lot of opportunities to network, and creativity comes out of those interactions.”

The 2013 event included the nation’s first-ever conference on Web-specific filmmaking, followed by a contest that saw more than 150 submissions of pilots for Web programs, competing in student and professional categories for cash prizes.

The winner of the pro category, Ido Amin, won 40,000 shekels ($11,600), as well as an all-expenses-paid week at the Web-film incubator YouTube Space, for his animated short “Doodle the News.”

Student filmmaker Einat Shahek earned first prize and $5,772 for “Microwave,” a cheeky look at office life; the Innovation Award went to Omri Ruta’s “Hostel,” an interactive television pilot whose format resembles the board game Clue.

Several of the submissions from the first contest went on to compete elsewhere around the globe, with Ganit Orian’s sci-fi animated short, “The Embryo Who Came in From the Cold,” making it to the finals in Hong Kong.

Made for Web, its creators say, will likely become an annual event, and a second run is scheduled for this summer.

Is there an international format in the offing?

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