The Best 30 Films of JSFS
In 1989, Israel’s first national film school was established in Jerusalem. Many of the country’s leading film and television creators have graduated from the Jerusalem Sam Spiegel Film School. They transformed the local industry and were the engine for its renaissance over the past 30 years. Now, on its 30th anniversary, a jury of 100 major film personas selected the 30 best short films in Sam Spiegel's history.
"The Jerusalem Sam Spiegel School has produced some of the most exciting student films in international cinema today."
Josh Siegel, MoMA Film Curator, March 2020
WE ARE BELIEVERS
by Renen Schorr, Founding Director
The Sam Spiegel Essential Questions – 1989, 1999, 2005, 2009, 2015, 2020
From its swift inception in November 1989, during a time of deep local film industry crisis that drove audiences away, the Jerusalem Sam Spiegel Film School presented its students with questions that were not asked before: Is the film you wish to make original? Is it relevant? Are you the only one who can tell the story? Do you have an obligation to tell it? Is it relevant to your inner world and personal taste? Is it relevant to your audience? Which audience would that be? With what artistic means will you reach this audience? Will its meaning traverse countries and cultures?
This emphasis – this demand - for relevance resulted in a genuine energy and passion that seized the first classes of students. Their presentation of first graduate films in 1992 marked a turning point in Israeli cinema. Their mostly autobiographical films dealt boldly with topics of political, cultural and personal conflicts, starting a dialogue with Israeli and international audiences that will continue for years to follow.
MoMA chief film curator, Laurence Kardish, on the occasion of the first tribute to the School in 1996, wrote:
“The Sam Spiegel School is sending Israeli cinema in a new and exciting direction; its spirit is crossing borders, and its films are a most welcome presence invigorating the international scene”
The Lodz Experience – 1989, 1999, 2005, 2009, 2015, 2020
On the occasion of Sam Spiegel's 10 year anniversary, in 1999, I went to Poland to form a twinship agreement between the renowned Polish National Film School in Lodz and us. The occasion was their 50th anniversary celebrations. Hundreds of school graduates and dozens of film school directors flew in from all over the world. Over two intensive days we saw a live performance of the Lodz Philharmonic accompanied with film clips from the legendary graduates - Wajda, Polanski, Kieślowski – who played a pivotal role in shaping Polish culture and European cinema after WWII. The Lodz Film School released a DVD of its 50 best films of all time, and an exhibition of 50 years of photos of their famous graduate filmmakers on location. The high point was at midnight. The school gave vouchers and drinks to 500 graduates so they could take hundreds of yellow taxis to run around the city with their horns blaring and shouting out the name of the school. It was like Joshua circling the walls of Jericho. They forgot their unfinished business with the school. They were so drunk.
I took it all in. I was utterly inspired. I love honoring the passing of time . This celebration of tradition triggered something inside of me. Then and there I started thinking how we would celebrate 15 years of our school, just 5 years down the line. I did not imagine that I would be around for the 30 year celebrations.
An Act of Camaraderie – 1989, 1999, 2005, 2009, 2015, 2020
On our 15 year anniversary, we were still far from having a history and legacy like that of the Lodz School. When we emerged onto the international film school scene, most student films then were dark and bleak. Our films were different in their spirit and storytelling. In that same year we were the subject of 15 tributes worldwide including at the Berlin Film Festival and the Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival; an exhibition of still photos taken on our sets; a commemorative periodical published by the Tel Aviv Cinematheque... But I did not feel like Joshua. The walls did not yet fall.
We wanted our films to be screened not only in special daily programs on Israeli television, in festivals and tributes, but rather for them to circulate widely and studied in schools around the world. Our colleagues, like Lodz, released their DVDs based on internal school decisions, not curated internationally.
We needed a new cliffhanger, a stamp of magnitude. We decided to reach out to the biggest international jury ever and invite them to spotlight the 10 best Sam Spiegel School films of all time, and then to release the School's first DVD for local and international distribution. To do this on a shoestring budget without the jury actually having to come to Jerusalem – flights, lodging, food and jury dynamics… We decided to make them an offer they can/cannot refuse: to watch selected 15 shorts and choose the 10 best - over a period of four months. To our surprise, either directly or through their lawyers, agents, managers and friends, 65 major film personas joined the jury:
poster design: Yehudit Schatz
Paul Newman, Jeanne Moreau, Kirk Douglas, Andrzej Wajda, Wim Wenders, Pedro Almodovar, David Mamet, Mike Leigh, Theo Angelopoulos, Emir Kusturica, Walter Murch, Saul Zaentz, Peter Weir, Luc Besson, Peter Jackson, Dusan Makavejev, Nikita Mikhalkov, Anthony Minghella, Gus Van Sant, Atom Egoyan, Gilles Jacob, Dieter Kosslick, Paul Auster, Hector Babenco, Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, Samira Makhmalbaff, Mario Monicelli, Gillo Pontecorvo, Zbigniew Preisner, Francesco Rosi, Istvan Szabo, Charlie Kaufman, Vilmos Zsigmond, and more.
These people chose to be part of the School's history. An act of generosity and camaraderie.
The 20 Year Anniversary – 1989, 1999, 2005, 2009, 2015, 2020
In 2009, when we reached our 20th year, we chose to postpone the big event, and instead wait for our silver anniversary.
We did not let the milestone pass though. We marked the occasion with a DVD release of the 20 best films chosen by directors of 20 film festivals:
Dieter Kosslick Berlin International Film Festival; Christian Jeune Cannes Film Festival; Laurence Kardish Film Department MoMA; Roger Gonin Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival; Jan-Christopher Horak UCLA Film Archive; Sylvie Pras Pompidou Center; Chicca Bergonzi Locarno Film Festival; Noah Cowan Ontario Cinematheque; Richard Pena New York Film Festival; José Antonio Martínez Suárez Festival Mar del Plata; Mirsad Purivatra Sarajevo Film Festival; Graham Leggat San Francisco Film Festival; Hannah McGill Edinburgh Film Festival; Ilan De Vries Jerusalem Film Festival; Despina Mouzaki Thessaloniki Film Festival; Marit Kapla Göteborg Film Festival; Leonardo Garcia Tsao Mexican Cinematheque; Bruno Barde Deuville Film Festival; Mihai Chiri Transylvania Film Festival; Elliot Grove Raindance Film Festival
The Blaring Horns of Jericho – 1989, 1999, 2005, 2009, 2015, 2020
Our 25th anniversary celebrations were a leap towards the blaring horns of Lodz/Jericho. We put on a massive event at the historic Jerusalem YMCA in front of a full audience of 600 founders, donors, teachers, alumni and students. The overflowing events honored our founders. Graduates wrote about their school experience; two original shorts were produced and screened – The Last Tycoon, the first ever film about Academy Award winning producer Sam Spiegel, and the mockumentary The 25 Lost Years, which “proves” that legendary prime minister David Ben Gurion, after watching Exodus with trailblazing Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, decided to open the first Israeli film school in the early 1960s.
The ultimate undertaking was a DVD/Blu-ray featuring the School’s 25 best films of all time, chosen by a jury of 100 people – an international act of curating: 50 film school directors, our colleagues and competitors, and 50 international film critics and Israeli cinema scholars.
It was a step further in the display of camaraderie - watching and ranking close to ten hours of our selected shorts.
Restoring the Past, Envisioning the Future
Setting out to compile the school’s 25 best films into a DVD, we found ourselves in an unexpected production crisis. Sixty percent of the films selected were from the 16mm era of the school, and will require a Sisyphean task of restoration, as well as locating lost negatives in labs around the world, at a high financial and labor cost.
By the time we were ready, DVD and Blu-ray formats had faded out and new technologies took over.
So, we decided to create an online portal.
A Living Manifesto – 1989, 1999, 2005, 2009, 2015, 2020
I was one of 100 members of the jury that selected the shorts showcased in this portal. I can think of so many more excellent school shorts that could have made it to the final list, but I accept the choice of the other 99 jury members with love and respect. I am profoundly proud of our students’ success in acknowledging that the goal of cinema is to shatter stereotypes through compelling storytelling. During the last three decades they boldly dealt with the most essential issues of this tormented country. The personal lives and local issues depicted in their films apply to the world at large: growing up in a conflict driven region; the disintegration of the Israeli ethos; the hardships of immigration; Israel's crisis of faith; LGBTQ legitimacy; Jerusalem as an alternative to Tel-Aviv's escapism; the emerging power of female directors; and so much more.
While working on this project, some of the school's leading alumni joined me in conceiving a manifesto, which serves as a guiding light to all of us at the Sam Spiegel Film School and in the creative life that follows.
The films are a never-ending credit roller of teachers and mentors, engaged staff, hundreds of actors, including film stars who were willing to work for free, and our admired technicians who lugged equipment and brought it back thousands of times for numerous exercises and nearly 700 graduation films.
We are deeply grateful to the 100 jury members – international film critics, Israeli film scholars, and especially our colleagues - the 50 members of CILECT, The International Association of Film and Television Schools.
With their generous contribution and camaraderie, let this portal offer a discourse and a celebration of the universal vigor of Short Films.
Renen Schorr Initiator and Curator
Tommy Kay Hammer Head of Restoration
Ayelet Menahemi Content Editor
Cara Saposnik Head of International Relations
Michal Sinai Jury Coordinator
Adar Debby, Gain Media Design Graphics
Daniel Olinsky Translation
Tova Bordo Visual Research
Ron Ben Meir Restoration
Elimelech Witt, Tom Barnea Restoration Team
Moshe Shai, Yossi Zwecker Stills
Special Thanks Raya Dreben, David Bottoms, Adam Spiegel, Michael Freedman, Eyal Ezri, Yoram Honig, Eyal Haimovsky, Asaf Vitman, Dana Blankstein Cohen, Akiva Tevet, Rami Shemesh, Noa Regev, Meir Russo, Ken Kleinberg, Ruth Diskin, Noa Ron, Dana Shachar