Representatives of the Israeli film industry are furious over proposed legislation that would drastically change how government funding is distributed, amid ongoing controversy over movies, such as award-winning “Foxtrot,” that politicians say portray Israel in a bad light.
Until now, government backing for movie projects has been distributed through a series of independent film funds. But a series of amendments to Israel’s Film Law, proposed by conservative Culture Minister Miri Regev last week, calls for the establishment of a body of script readers selected by and subordinate to her ministry. According to Regev, the film funds would be forced to hire 70% of their own script readers from this body.
The bill has passed its first reading in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, and could pass into law as early as this week. But in hearings that have been held ahead of voting, industry representatives have expressed their disgust and anger over the proposed changes.
On Monday, members of the Israeli Director’s Guild stormed out of a hearing on the bill in protest. Assaf Amir, chairman of the Israeli Producers Assn., said that lawmakers were seeking to pass a bill “that will destroy the film industry, and are telling us that it will save the film industry.”
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A representative of the Israel Democracy Institute also spoke out against the proposed legislation, saying that it would create “political and government intervention” and could lead to “self-censorship and restrictions in the freedom of expression.”
On Sunday, Katriel Schory – the longtime executive director of the Israeli Film Fund, who was honored at the Berlinale earlier this year – slammed the proposals in a Knesset meeting. Schory warned that if the changes were to be approved, Israel could end up “with an image like [autocratic Turkish leader Recep] Erdogan,” which would scare away outside investors.
Regev, who has served as culture minister since 2015, has long been openly and harshly critical of films and projects she disapproves of. Some of her strongest criticism was directed towards last year’s “Foxtrot” by Samuel Maoz, which won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival and was shortlisted for the foreign-language Academy Award. Angered by the film’s depiction of Israel’s army, Regev vowed last year that films like “Foxtrot,” which “display contempt for the state and its symbols…and play into the hands of our enemies,” would not receive any government funds in the future.
Indeed, Regev said last week that her proposals for reforming the film industry do not go as far as she would like. “If I was at the beginning of my term as minister,” she said last week, “I would have just closed down all the film funds and replaced them with a National Film Institute.”