In the last 10 years, Israeli feature films have made their mark on the international film scene. From multiple Oscar nominations through awards at every major film festival to increasing box office success, Israel has turned its once struggling industry into a force to be reckoned with. There was a time when one or two Israeli films would be seen internationally per decade, but today it is multiple films a year. In 2014 alone the Israeli films that have been picked up for American theatrical distribution include the Israeli Academy winner Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, which was just nominated for a Golden Globe, The Farewell Party, Zero Motivation, Farewell Herr Schwarz, and The Green Prince.
Clearly, Israeli feature films have made their mark internationally in many formats with hits like Walk on Water or the animation-documentary Waltz with Bashir and documentaries such as The Gatekeepers. But where the real creative work is going on, and has been for years, is in Israel's short films. These gems are often being produced on minimal budgets and with scarce resources but with amazing quality and creativity.
Short films used to be the work of first time directors or students, but today, short films are made by experienced directors and crews -- for compilations or alternative projects, and even as standalone films. Israel recently changed its film funding laws to include funding more short films -- thus funding more projects and giving a voice to more creative artists in the field. In the next few years, we should expect to see many more well-made Israeli short dramas.
The problem for short films used to be the lack of platform for presentation. They do not fit into classical cinematic presentations, and often do not fit even for television releases. The only place to see short films was at film festivals and those films had a reputation of being artsy student experiments or as part of the Oscar nominee compilations, which have grown more popular over the last years. But as digital media develops and new platforms for viewing different kinds of films arise, there is more space for these shorts. Viewers are certainly open to new formats and with online platforms, the rules of the length of a program are out the window. Through these platforms such as Hulu, iTunes, and WebTV sites, audiences are enjoying alternative formats of viewing on different devices and are not restricted to classical programming.
Shorter films might also work particularly well for our attention challenged generation. I love short films for the same reasons I love short stories. They often hit the ground running and remove all the fluff and extra fat, and conclude with a true resolution. With an open market and the relative ease of making a short film, the trouble now is where to find the good ones. With all the amazing short films out there, there are many more not so good ones.
Israel seems to have mastered the short format. The abundance of film schools in Israel lead the way for the production and appreciation of many of these. But even before Israel became a cinematic powerhouse, creative short films were flourishing. Possibly the person who defines Israeli short format is Etgar Keret and his stories have been adapted as shorts for the big screen by filmmakers in Israel as well as around the world. Even after making Jellyfish, a well-received feature-length film, Keret, like many other leading Israeli directors, directed the short What About Me?.
The Academy Awards should be applauded for highlighting categories of short films and giving a voice to independent productions. This year, two Israeli films made the short list for the Academy Awards. One film, Aya, by Mihal Brezis and Oded Bennun, tells the story of an unusual woman who decides to randomly pick up a guest attending a music festival from the airport and take him to his destination. During the ride to Jerusalem, they develop a relationship. Brezis and Bennun previously made the amazing short Lost Paradise.
The second shortlisted film is the Sundance Film Festival selected Summer Vacation. The film tells the sexy story of a man who meets an old male lover while on vacation with his wife and children. Both films are fantastic, with high production values and great storytelling that speak universally.
Next time you are looking for your next Internet addiction, it is worth finding award-winning Israeli short films. Many circulate online on pay and non-pay websites, from YouTube to israelfilmcenterstream. Short format also lends itself to group showings, classroom showings, and salon meetings as the films leave time for in-depth conversation. I often present a selection of short films to groups and it is amazing to see how a five-minute film can inspire an hour-long conversation. The only trouble with a short films is, if you blink, you can miss it.