Lia Van Leer, founder of the Jerusalem Cinematheque and a pioneering figure in the Israeli film industry, died Friday at a hospital in Jerusalem. She was 90.
In the 1950s, Van Leer and her husband, Dutch engineer Wim Van Leer, turned their love of movies into film clubs that later expanded beyond their living room into cinematheque facilities in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. She also launched the country’s first film archive and the Jerusalem Film Festival in 1984.
Noa Regev, who was tapped in early 2014 to succeed Van Leer as director of both the Jerusalem Cinematheque and the Jerusalem Film Festival, released a statement Saturday morning expressing her sorrow. Despite her advanced age, Van Leer kept an office at the Jerusalem Cinematheque and still appeared at work every morning, collaborating alongside Regev on all events, programming and film selection.
“Lia was a pioneer of the culture of cinema in Israel, and she continued to be involved until the very last day,” Regev said. “She worked with love for cinema and for her fellow man, for the sake of cinema culture in Jerusalem, in Israel, and for the international community. I will miss her dearly, as well as the immense amount of hope and inspiration that she gave me in my life. She will be missed by everyone as a woman of culture, who for decades was one of the leaders and directors of this movement in Israel.”
Van Leer was born in 1924 in Romania. She arrived in pre-state Israel as a teenager in 1940, one year before her parents were sent to die in a Nazi concentration camp. She made the Jewish state her home, studying in the early 1940s at Hebrew University, where she met Van Leer. They married in 1952 and worked together until his death in 1991.
The Van Leers’ personal collection of movies, acquired from their travels in Europe and the U.S., became the basis of the Israel Film Archive, founded in 1960.
Lia Van Leer served as a member of the Cannes film festival jury in 1983 and was president of the Berlin film fest jury in 1995. In 2004 she was awarded one of her native country’s highest honors, the Israel Prize.
Van Leer’s legacy in film was celebrated in the 2011 documentary “Lia.”
Debra Kamin contributed to this report.