Israel’s Film Scene

March 24th 2015

Haifa Film FestivalHow to Tap Into Israel’s Film Scene, Past and Present

With subtitles, assigned seating, intermissions that often take place at inopportune moments and kosher candy at the snack bar, going to the movies in Israel is something special. Israeli films have been garnering accolades overseas in recent years, and the country is doing what it can to attract production of non-Israeli features on its shores. Here are our top picks for tapping into Israel’s much-abuzz film scene.

Screens on the Bay

Israel is home to two major international film festivals. The Haifa International Film Festival takes place each fall. It was the first of its kind in Israel and has been held for over 30 years. Nearly 300 films from all over the world, many of which have won awards at other film festivals, are seen by close to 300,000 festival goers. Approximately 25% of the films are from Israeli filmmakers. The film festival is also a chance for Haifa as a whole to let loose, with a full schedule of nightly events, including live music, outdoor screenings, cafés and pubs open extra late and an artists’ market in Mania Shokhat Park.

Cinematheque Projectionabove and beyond film 

The Jerusalem International Film Festival, just a year younger than its Haifa-based sister, takes place each year in
June and/or July. Hundreds of films in all genres are screened at seven different venues around the city, with the Jerusalem Cinematheque serving as the festival’s hub. “Meet the Filmmaker” events, a youth film competition, free films screened after dark at Jerusalem’s First Station and films that portray “The Jewish Experience” are just some of the features of the Jerusalem International Film Festival.

Beer and Popcorn at the Art House

If your visit to Israel doesn’t overlap one of the festival seasons, you can still enjoy an enchanting film experience at one of Israeli’s distinctive independent theaters. The Lev Smadar Theater, smack in the middle of a residential street in Jerusalem’s German Colony, is exactly the kind of place in which you would expect to see an art house film. With only one screen, everyone at the Smadar is there to see the same feature. You won’t be able to miss the café and bar tucked into the cozy lobby. How about some draught beer with your popcorn?

Repurposed on the Ports

71 filmA gem of Israel’s film scene of the past was the Armon Cinema (“Palace”) in Haifa, which opened in 1935, 13 years before Israel’s founding. With one screen and 1,800 seats, the management used to open the roof above the balcony on hot nights to let in a little fresh air. Sadly, it was torn down in 1987 to make room for an office building. The stately, white 1,100 seat Alhambra Cinema in Jaffa, now the Ideal Center of Scientology for the Middle East, is also no longer operating as a movie theater. But at least you can still pass by it on Jaffa’s Jerusalem Street and get a sense of its former glory.