One of the most famous Israeli film festivals that is held annually outside of Israel is marking its 25th anniversary this year: The Los Angeles Israel Film Festival kicked off on Wednesday and will run through November 7.
Although the festival began in Boston and quickly moved to New York, its real and most well-known home is Los Angeles. The moving force behind the festival is Meir Fenigstein, who is known in Israel as the drummer for the popular band Kaveret. Fenigstein founded the Israel Film Festival in 1982 as a four-day, six-film event.
"One thing led to another," Feingstein told Variety Online. "I didn't always know what I was doing. When I decided to do a festival, my motive was to produce something myself, to find what I was good at. From my days in the band, I knew I could organize things."
Fenigstein, who in 1982 was a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, visited Israel and spoke to an Israeli entertainment executive in the hopes to get him interested in creating an Israeli film festival in the US. "He said, 'Why don't you take more films and do a festival? Take me to Boston and I'll do your marketing and PR,'" Fenigstein told the Hollywood Reporter.
Today, the festival, which is intended to be a celebration of pure Israeli cinema, runs about 35 films of a variety of genres, including features and documentaries.
As Meyer Gottlieb, prexy of Samuel Goldwyn Films and an IFF board member told Variety: “The contributions are manifold," says, speaking about the fest's impact. "It showcases these films in the global arena of Hollywood, which is very important, offering an opportunity for Israeli filmmakers to show their works in a peer-to-peer situation.”
Filmmaker Avi Nesher, whose drama "The Matchmaker" opened this year’s festival and whose film “The Troupe” opened the first fesitval, met Fenigstein in the early 1980s in a New York coffee shop, and had doubts that he could pull this off.
"It's the grand American story, a man with a dream," he told the Hollywood Reporter. "This guy was a drummer in a rock band and he put the whole festival on by himself."
In addition to the celebration of Israeli cinema, honors will be bestowed on four greats in the film industry: Richard Dreyfus for his career achievement, founder and CEO of Relativity Media Ryan Kavanagh for film achievement, Jon Landau for his vision, and co-founder of Nu Image and Millennium FilmsAvi Lerner for lifetime achievement.
The festival will close on November 7 with two movies that were honored at this year's Israeli Film Academy Ophir Awards (the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars): “The Human Resources Manager,” a drama named best picture in Israel which has been selected as the Israeli entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, and “Precious Life” which won the Israeli Film Academy's award for best documentary.
As for Fenigstein, he plans to continue with the festival for many more years. "People ask me where I get the energy," he said. "But I'm as excited now as if it were the first one."