«There’s room for collaboration.»

Elad Samorzik is the artistic director of the Jerusalem Film Festival. When he was born in May 1984, the  Jerusalem Film Festival was taking place for the first time. The upcoming 40th festival will be his tenth as artistic director. We talked to him about the program and the decision to focus on Austria at the 2023 anniversary edition JFF40.

The JFF 2023 is a special edition – it’s the 40th festival and, if I’ve calculated correctly, it must be your 10th edition as an artistic director.

That’s exact. I joined the festival ten years ago as an Artistic Director. The festivals was founded in May 1984 which is exactly in the same month that I was born in. We are celebrating this 40th anniversary with a bigger program and a special focus on Austria and some very special guests from all over the world.

What were the challenges in programming this anniversary edition? Can you talk about a common thread that will be running through the program? Will there be special highlights?

I don’t want to be boring, but the biggest challenges for many film festivals are financial. We are not flooded with money and funds, but I think we managed to overcome these challenges. Unlike numerous festivals that have very few sponsors, we have dozens of sponsors that we have to maintain and reach out to every year. I’m happy with the results, we managed to find very good partners, AUSTRIAN FILMS is a very supportive partner for this edition and I’m happy to celebrate this 40th anniversary with a focus on Austrian films.

Austrian filmmaking has long enjoyed the interest and the curiosity of the curators of the JFF.  More than 70 feature length films are listed in our data base collecting all the screenings since 1995. How about your connection to Austrian cinema? Which Austrian films | authors provided the basis for your interest in Austrian filmmaking?

I’d be very curious to see this list. I have a very fond memory about Ulrich Seidl coming to the festival in 2015 which was my second year as the JFF Artistic Director. We had a tribute and showed In the Basement. Over the years we’ve been fascinated with Austrian films. I recall Barbara Albert’s Licht which we showed in 2018. I’m very happy that she’s going to be a part of our jury alongside with Sebastian Meise, whose Great Freedom was on our festival screens two years back. And to have new filmmakers that we are presenting at the festival such as Tizza Covi & Rainer Frimmel with Vera. We’re very excited about showing Jessica Hausner’s Club Zero and we’ll also be showing Ulrich Seidl’s Sparta.

Vera, Sparta, Club Zero, three films by four outstanding Austrian filmmakers whose handwritings couldn’t be more different from each other. This might tell us something about your view on Austrian filmmaking?

Indeed, they are very different filmmakers with very distinct and unique voices. I think what’s also interesting about these three films is that while they are all directed by Austrians, they all take place outside of Austria. Sparta takes us to Romania; Vera takes us to Italy and Club Zero is even English speaking. I should also explain that we have a very big selection divided in different categories, we cater to very different festival audiences. We have more than 300 screenings, we try to attract people with very different tastes. I’m sure festivalgoers interested in Ulrich Seidl’s latest film will not necessarily be interested in Club Zero or in Vera.

There will be two Austrian members in the jury of the international competition – Barbara Albert and Sebastian Meise. Tell us a bit about your motifs of inviting them?

When we are having the meetings to discuss the potential jury members, we always check the program of the recent years and see which filmmakers we would like to highlight. Maybe there are filmmakers who couldn’t attend the festivals when we showed their film and we would still like to have them with us. Usually that’s about films that were very well received at our festival. I know that our audience would like to meet them in person. That’s how the names of Sebastian and Barbara came up and we’re very happy that both of them are able to make it.

How’s Austrian filmmaking perceived in Israel? Do Israeli moviegoers discover Austrian films mainly at festivals?

Israel is not an easy market for arthouse films. There are many Austrian films screened at the JFF that are not theatrically released in Israel. Luckily, Club Zero has got an Israeli distributor which is not the case for Vera nor for Sparta. This means that festivals are basically the only place to be shown on the big screen. We also try to promote our films after the festivals. Other Cinematheques with non-theatrical programs happen to ask us for recommendations and on top of that, we’ve already produced the Hebrew subtitles which can be helpful for other institutions.

How do audiences respond to the festival screenings?

One of the main goals of having our festival is bringing together the audience and the filmmakers to initiate an interesting discussion which usually takes place in the theater after the screening, but very often also outside of the cinemas. We have a lot of places outside the cinemas for people to sit down and to interact with the filmmakers, often tackling the questions they didn’t dare to ask in the theaters. For the screenings of Vera we’ll have Rainer Frimmel and also Vera Gemma. I’m sure that there will be interesting discussions. I’m looking forward to that.

Austria will also be a country in focus at this year’s Industry Days. What will be the main events?

The two main events of the Industry Days in Jerusalem are the Jerusalem Pitch Point and the Sam Spiegel Lab. The latter is initiated by the Sam Spiegel Film School, one of our partners, which is also based in Jerusalem. They have an international script lab running over half a year with twelve projects selected; screenwriters meet in Jerusalem for several times during the writing process, their last meeting takes place during the Jerusalem Film Festival; it’s the opportunity to present the projects and to compete for the awards. There isn’t any Austrian project at the Sam Spiegel Lab this year, but that’s definitely a point to work on. I’m sure there’d also be room for Austria to promote projects for this platform in the future.The Jerusalem Pitch Point is a competitive platform for Israeli full-length narratives in the stages of development, production and post-production. Our goal is to bring over international delegates, co-producers, distributors, sales agents, film fund executives. There’s a pitch-event to present the projects in a first step, and then we organise meeting events where we encourage collaborations between Israel and other countries, usually with Europe. On the occasion of this year’s industry platform we’re focussing on Austria. Basically, we’re bringing over a few producers and industry delegates from Austria who will participate in the Pitch Point sessions and there will also be some round table events designed to introduce Austrian and Israeli producers. A panel, moderated by Katriel Schory the former Head of the Israeli Film Fund, will bring up ideas and initiatives how to improve collaboration, how to encourage co-productions and to define the needs of each industry in order to find ways how we can work together to meet each other’s goals.

With which countries does Israel traditionally co-produce?

It used to be France because Arte was a significant player in the Israel film industry. Years ago, they invested more money in Israeli cinema than all the film funds in Israel together. This has changed. Now, I’d say Germany and France play a similar role when it comes to co-productions. I don’t think, there have been so many co-productions between Israel and Austria. There’s also going to be a presentation of the Tax Rebate Incentive from Austria at the industry event, we’ll see whether there could be some interesting collaborations for Israeli productions to be shot in Austria. There could be some projects such as narratives based on true events or documentaries that could work together. I think, history connects us in a way. I think, there’s room for collaboration.

Interview: Karin Schiefer
June 2023