Although its existence might be news to most in the New York production community, Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film & Television School has garnered credit over the past 20 years as pivotal in the renaissance of the Israeli film industry.
Yesterday, attendees at The School of Visual Arts’ Chelsea theater got some idea what the fuss is about at the launch of three days of screenings and talks to celebrate that 20th anniversary. Three of the city’s top film schools, Columbia University School of Arts, The School of Visual Arts Film School and NYU Tisch School of the Arts, are hosting evenings of screenings for students. The Israel Film Center at JCC offers the one public screening this evening.
Among those speaking were Reeves Lehman, chair of SVA’s film school, and Larry Kardish, MoMA’s film and media department curator. Renen Schorr, founding director of the Sam Spiegel school, noted how its start in 1989 under near riot conditions as students at the country’s major arts university demanded a program focused solely on film and television production. Then mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek pushed for the institute to be located in that city instead of the more obvious location of Tel Aviv. Part of that reasoning, as Schorr noted, was an attempt to use the arts to move beyond the ethnic and religious dichotomies that so characterize Jerusalem.
Reeves Lehman credited the school for its emphasis on character and story as expressed in short films, and not the longer feature format that many film school attendees immediately aspire to. The evening’s screenings of Sam Spiegel grad film projects from the past 20 years exemplified that with their mix of quirky, endearing, and irritating characters, with a minimum of special effects save a wobbly, stuffed porcupine which causes a key traffic accident. New York-based producers Anthony Bregman, Ira Deutchman and Carol Polakoff are members of the school’s advisory board.
Later this year the school will launch The Jerusalem International Film Lab, which hopes to build itself to the status of The Sundance Institute. The lab will offer space for 12 “aspiring new international talents” each year, with eight spots available to anyone living outside of Israel. If you’d like more info on the application process, click here.
If the name Sam Spiegel sounds a little familiar, it should. Spiegel, an immigrant from Austria, was the acclaimed Hollywood producer behind classics including The African Queen (as S.P. Eagle), On the Waterfront, and Lawrence of Arabia.