Noa Regev has been the executive director of the Jerusalem Cinematheque since 2013. This position also includes heading the Israel Film Archive as well as the Jerusalem Film Festival, which under her direction, has grown in size and significance, both nationally and internationally. Regev completed her studies at the School of Film and Television at the Tel Aviv University with a doctoral thesis on genre in cinema as exemplified by children’s film. Since then, she has lectured at many academic institutions all over Israel. Prior to taking up her duties in Jerusalem, she headed the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival and the Holon Cinematheque.
Tara Karajica talks to her about her role as head of the Association Jerusalem Cinematheque – Israeli Film Archive – Jerusalem Film Festival and women in film.
When you took over, how did you find the Association Jerusalem Cinematheque – Israeli Film Archive – Jerusalem Film Festival and did you plan to change things?
Noa Regev: We had many challenges, both political and financial, and my vision was to focus on the archive before anything else because I thought: “What is the most special thing we have?” We have an archive. We have an archive with 30,000 items including rare documentation and almost 100% of all the Israeli films ever made, and it’s all on analog film! No one can see them and they have no future because they won’t be preserved this way. So my main mission is to see how we can create a digital archive. We are raising funds and proceeding very well despite all the difficulties. We have a comprehensive plan and we have already established a digitalization lab and a digital preservation system is already in place and we are working on a website where all these materials will be accessible to the public in the future. And, of course, there is the film festival. With the festival, the main goals were to develop the Industry Days events, to bring in more young audiences in many different ways and to attract not only the usual suspects, but to make a sort of second circle of people engaged with the festival.
And how are you succeeding these endeavors?
N.R.: We can see a growth of 25% in admissions from 2017 to 2018. This year, we have a new project, which I don’t know yet how it will turn out and whether it will succeed, but I really do hope so. It consists in a special accreditation for students at a very low price like it’s done in Karlovy Vary and in Mumbai. There’s a lot to learn from our colleagues at other festivals and this is one of those things. I can say that I can learn first and foremost from my team. It’s team work. I’m only the general director. When I say “only,” I mean it! It’s just another position in a very complex system of people who are working together and I look at each one of them and I know they do their work much better than I. That’s how I feel all the time. So it’s first and foremost the team and then it’s colleagues in other places. You need to learn, you need to explore, you need to try… And so this year, we hope to bring many students to the festival for a very special experience where they can enjoy all the festival almost for free.
How do you combine your teaching position with all this work that you’re doing?
N.R.: Well, before working for the Association, I was teaching full time. Now, I’m teaching only one course, which is a course about film festivals. It combines theoretical thinking with practical festival work, which is fun! And it’s great because it’s for the soul! For me, teaching is a way to give the knowledge I acquired back and, again, it sounds a bit cliché, but learning from the students is actually part of my job. I teach only one course just for the sake of it!
You have now mentioned that you want the Jerusalem Film Festival to be a youth friendlier festival and this is where your thesis comes in handy, right?
N.R.: Well, to be precise, the mission I mentioned focuses on students and my PhD was about children’s films, but yes, you are right. In a way, it’s looking at different audiences. You have to imagine your audience. You can’t do a festival and say: “Oh yes, this festival is for everyone.” It sounds nice, but if you want to succeed, you have to imagine your actual viewer, your actual audience, and create the right program. In the past years, we did special activities for children; we even had a competition for children with children as jury and we had a cine park for children with special activities. But I think, in that sense, my PhD helped me to understand how important it is to imagine your actual audience. And my thesis followed the history of children cinema and it all began when the film industry started to acknowledge this kind of audience because at first, for the first thirty-five years of cinema, no one thought of children as an audience that had different needs. So children saw everything like adults and silent cinema was maybe easier to follow; it was full of action with no sophisticated dialogues and, in a way, it fitted children. But this is the point where you start to imagine your audience.
When you took over, were you afraid of the legacy that was passed on to you; that you have to preserve and take care of it?
N.R.: Not afraid at all. I mean, this is the power we have somehow. It’s always a combination between the legacy and the here and the now, so no. I felt it’s a great privilege to keep up the amazing work that was done. Actually, at the Cinematheque, it was most of the time women working. The successful years of the Cinematheque were when Lia van Leer established it. An amazing woman! Brave! A pioneer! And maybe the weakest years were when she got older and a man took over. But Lia was still alive when I came in and she gave me a lot of encouragement. I was not afraid of the legacy and I still now I never think I can be a Lia. Lia was Lia. She was one of a kind, but I can be myself. Lia was the President, she was the face, and I see myself still as the door, the execution of things.
When you put on the program, how do you combine things to make the perfect festival for both filmmakers and the audience in terms of films so that you can please everyone?
N.R.: First, I would say this job is in the hands of a very talented man, Elad Samorzik, the artistic director. But, of course, I am involved and we work together. It’s cherry picking all year long and the criteria is first and foremost cinematic achievements. And when you pick films according to that, I will not exclude a film that is wonderful if I have too many art-house films. I will not do that. We have different sections. We have the “Cinemania” section that is a section with films about cinema – perfect for cinephiles. We have the “Gala,” which is comprised of crowd-pleasers and new films. We have the “In the Spirit of Freedom” Competition that is made up of excellent films that deal with Human Rights – both documentaries and fiction films. These sections help us tend to different audiences. And we have the “Midnight” section with horror films that is maybe more suited for younger people. People of different ages can relate to different films.
Do you look out for a higher percentage of women in your selection?
N.R.: It’s a very, very complicated issue because, again, the criteria will always be cinematic achievements, but I am very glad to say that in the past years we can see a growth in the number of films made by women. Of course, when it comes to juries, probably more than 50% of the jury is made up of women, so this is something that we can definitely control and we insist on it. We even sometimes had juries made up just of women. But we try to bring in some men too because, why not?
How do you see the situation of women in film in general and more specifically in Israel?
N.R.: I could say that in the cultural field, institutions, funds, etc. the situation is good. We have quite a lot of women running the show. Also in high positions. In filmmaking, it’s getting better. Three years ago, the Israeli competition had 60% women and 40% men, but last year, it wasn’t like that. Again, it depends on a specific year. It’s getting better and there is a big struggle for it in Israel. The Israeli film industry is very enthusiastic, very active, many films are being made – both documentaries and fiction – and women are taking on a very active role. Some of the greatest achievements in Israeli cinema were by women and yet there is place for improvement, but it’s all part of a larger scale situation – the gender balance situation in economy, in politics…
Do you still have the initiative where women can come one day with their strollers and babies to the Cinematheque and watch films?
N.R.: Yes. It’s done sometimes at different Cinematheques and ours as well. It’s a great initiative. But, actually, the audience is probably 60% women anyway, which is interesting. But not women with babies!
What is the best thing about the Jerusalem Film Festival, the Cinematheque and the whole Film Center? Why would you tell us to go there and watch films?
N.R.: It’s a magical place! And everyone that has been there could feel it. It starts with the venue and the location. It’s very special; it’s in a national park where you can see horses running, sheep in the grass, and it’s between East and West Jerusalem and many would say it’s an island of sanity in a very complex city. It’s an open sphere that really welcomes everyone. We are the only cinema in Israel to show films with our big subtitles and we welcome both religious and secular people and I think the most special thing is the combination of being the only center that has an archive, daily activities and festivals and we all work together, so it’s very empowering for each department.
You mentioned that one of the challenges and goals you had when you took over was to develop the industry program of the festival. How is this going? What are your plans?
N.R.: It’s going very well. We have new competitions for filmmakers and we established a small yearly conference for festival directors that we call “Think Fest” and we invite many leading festival directors, distributors and sales agents. It’s a great meeting point that is still boutique on the one hand, so it’s very informal and everyone gets together. It’s really a place to connect, but with a very productive atmosphere.
What are your plans for the future of the whole Association?
N.R.: The main mission for the next few years would be the archive. It’s a long term project. There’s still a lot to be done and it’s very exciting. It’s like an archaeological site. You go to the Cinematheque everyday and the people of the archive discover new treasures. It’s unbelievable! Films that were in a can on a shelf for thirty or forty years and no one has seen what’s inside and now we can discover amazing stuff. We also want to develop the festival as well as educational programs, courses and new collaborations for the daily activities. It’s endless! This is what’s so fun about it!
Photo credit: © Gerhard Kassner/Berlinale