A Cinema-Lover's Guide To The Best Israeli Directors

A Cinema-Lover's Guide To The Best Israeli Directors
Since 2000, the theme in Israeli cinema is no longer limited to the conflict. The latest film projects and documentaries that have graced the screen represent a range of themes and styles, from Tibet-based documentary, a Lebanon War animated documentary, to a kibbutz family feature film. Here, we have sorted out the best from the rest, so that you don’t have to.
Official Poster, Waltz with Bashir (2008) © Douban

Ari Folman

Ari Folman is a famous Israeli film director and screenwriter. He is the first person who creatively combined animation, documentary and feature film into one single masterpiece: Folman’s memorable Waltz with Bashir.

Ari Folman © filmdivider

The story records Ari’s 19 year-old memory of the Sabra and Shatila tragedy in the First Lebanon War in 1982. The massacre was too painful to recall, that Ari wasn’t able to remember it at first.

20 years later, Folman, also a former Israeli soldier, talked to his previous comrade-in-arms, friends, psychologists, and most importantly, the soldiers involved, in order to find his lost memory and reconstruct the truth of the events.

Ari Folman, shooting at The Congress © The Congress

This film helped Ari win his first Golden Globe Award, which the movie received for Best Foreign Language Film, an NSFC Award for Best Film, a César Award for Best Foreign Film, an IDA Award for Feature Documentary, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, a BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language and an Annie Award for Best Animated Feature.

Nati Baratz © krakowfilmfestival

Nati Baratz

Nati Baratz, a software engineer and filmmaker born in Jerusalem, graduated from the Tel Aviv University Cinematic Art Program in 2000. He is well known to the public for two short documentaries: 2001’s Tel Aviv-Kyrgyzstan and 2004’s Noches, released in Israeli TV.

Official Poster, Unmistaken Child © gstatic

Unmistaken Child is Nati’s first feature-length documentary, which he spent five and half years producing in Tibet. It tells a story of a Tibetan Buddhist monk, Tenzin Zopa, and his search for the child, the reincarnation of his teacher Geshe, Lama Konchog.

Tenzin Zopa and Nati Barati © Nati Baratz

Nati produced a film based on Tibet because he and his wife had attended a lecture given by Tenzin Zopa in Nepal. ‘Tenzin really touched me in a profound way,’ says Nati. ‘He is smart and ambitious. When I heard he’s seeking the reincarnation of his master, I thought it is the movie that I must make.’

Shemi Zarhin

Writer and director Shemi Zarhin was born and raised in Tiberias, a small city perched on the Sea of Galilee, located in the north of Israel. Like Nati, he graduated from the Tel Aviv University film department. After that, he taught filmmaking and scriptwriting courses at the Sam Spiegel School in Jerusalem. He is best known in Israel for his film Dangerous Acts.

Shemi Zarhin © newvesselpress

He later became famous for his masterpiece, Hakochavim Shei Shlomi (2003), which brought him 20 awards from several international film festivals. The story is about a 16-year-old Moroccan-Israeli boy, Shlomi, who cares for everyone except himself. It is quite similar to Little Miss Sunshine, a family drama film, which involves Shlomi’s restless mother, soldier brother, elderly grandfather and most importantly, the low-profile leading character, Shlomi.

Shlomi is far from being a straight-A student in school, but he is incredibly talented in math. The school principal discovers Shlomi’s intelligence and, for the first time, Shlomi becomes visible to the people in his environment.

Official Poster, Hakochavim Shei Shlomi (2003) © amazon


Audience Award at SEMINCI-Valladolid International Film Festival-Spain; Best Film and Best Directing at the Moscow International Film Festival for Young People; Best Film, Best Script, Fipresci and Signis at Festrois International Film Festival-Portugal; Golden Greyphon for Best Film at the Giffoni International Film Festival-Italy

Right: Dror Shaul © Home Page

Dror Shaul

Dror Shaul was born in Kibbutz Kissuflm in the south of Israel and lived there until the age of 22. His first unique Israeli-German-French-Japanese co-production film, Sweet Mud (2006) won him a worldwide reputation.

The film brings us to the desert kibbutz where twelve year old Dvir and his family lived in the 1970s. It seems to be a peaceful existence until his father commits suicide unexpectedly, which drives his mother, Miri, into mental illness. Dvir and his elder brother, Eyal, have to look after their mother. But the conservative community seems unwilling to tolerate his family.

The film received four 2006 Ophir Awards from the Israeli Academy of Film and Television (Best Film, Best Music, Best Production Design, Best Sound) and six other nominations (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Editing). It also won the World Cinema Jury Prize (Dramatic) at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and was Israel’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2007 Academy Awards.

Shooting at Sweet Mud © Sweet Mud Group

Amos Gitai

Amos Gitai is primarily known for his documentary and feature films, with an emphasis on the Middle East and Jewish-Arab conflicts. He was born in Haifa in 1950, studied architecture at the University of Haifa, and the University of California, Berkeley.

Amos Gitai © cristinamello

Gitai lived in Paris for ten years, which he regards as his second home. He has also worked with a number of renowned movie stars, such as Juliette Binoche, Natalie Portman, Léa Seydoux.

Official Poster, September 11 (2002) © Doubanl

On September 11, 2001, in wake of the earth-shattering attacks, the French Film Production group, Studio Canal, quickly invited 11 famous directors to produce eleven 11 minutes 09 seconds 01 frame (11’09’’01) short films on the same topic: 9/11. Amos Gitai represented Israel as one of the selected filmmakers.

He filmed the arrival of a TV crew to a Tel Aviv street just after a suicide bombing. Meanwhile, catastrophe strikes in New York. At the 2002 Venice Film Festival, this moving film received the UNESCO Award.

By Hongshan Chen

Hongshan Chen is a student, soon to be graduating with an MA in archaeology at Tel Aviv University, Israel. Born in China and having lived in the US, she is fascinated by different cultures, regards herself a worldwide citizen (21 countries traveled) and profoundly believes in traveling and exploring as much of the world as possible. Hongshan is a self-proclaimed foodie, a lover of film and photography. She hopes to share her experiences living in Tel Aviv with others. You can follow her on Twitter.