Micha Shagrir was a media figure, director, and producer, and undoubtedly one of the most prolific creative forces that the Israeli film and television industry has ever known. In the five decades he was active, from the 1960s onwards, Shagrir produced hundreds of documentaries, narrative films, drama series, news features, adverts, and general election TV ads. The one common denominator shared by the diverse plethora of screen works he had presided over is a human eye that never shies away from the ‘other’ but rather, looks at them with genuine interest, directness, and cinematic honesty.
Shagrir’s body of work touches upon Israeli society’s rawest nerves through the platforming of voices which, prior to his time, had seldom – if ever – been seen or heard onscreen: from wounded and shellshocked IDF soldiers suffering with PTSD, to Holocaust survivors, Israeli Arabs, and Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia and Arab and North African countries. Throughout his decades-long career, Shagrir afforded them all extensive screen time; not once, in the form of continuously revisiting individuals who had appeared in his various films and TV programmes over the years, and whom he would check in with, time and again, following the unfolding of their stories and lives.
Shagrir also explored a range of Jewish-Israeli ethnic issues, long before those particular, prickly Pandora’s Boxes became the timely, topical trend they currently are. For instance, in The Elhadad Family (1980), Shagrir tackled the theme of ethnicity and the fate of Moroccan Jewry in Israel by turning the spotlight onto the industrial towns in the heart of Israel’s southern Negev region. Then, in 1992, he revisited the Elhadas in a sequel that illustrated how the family’s experience of immigration, assimilation, and foreignness continued to follow them, even years after they had all allegedly integrated into Israel, and how those ended up also trickling down to future generations.
The Shagrir-produced live footage of Ethiopian Jewry’s mass immigration to Israel remains, to this day, the primary and most comprehensive piece of archival documentation of Operation Moses (1984-85) and Operation Solomon (1991), respectively. Here too, Shagrir would revisit his film subjects ten and twenty years after initial contact (for instance, as seen in the film Emissary Named Zimna, 1993), in a series of moving encounters that boast the most humane, heartfelt, and caring form of documentary work, well beyond the scope of traditional filmmaking.
Shagrir had no qualms about asking direct, hard-hitting questions. He would look at every individual from all walks of life straight in the eye, with humanity and compassion, recognising pain and injustice, and letting them take centre stage. In Diary of an Egyptian Soldier (1979), Shagrir, himself, personally returned a fallen Egyptian soldier’s journal to his parents after the war. His encounter with the bereaved parents features a rare, intimate dialogue between private citizens of either side of the border; both of whom had paid the ultimate price of war. Shagrir had a way of wisely blurring the lines between documentary and narrative filmmaking, striking a mutual balance between the two genres. Several years after making Diary of an Egyptian Soldier, he produced the narrative feature film, Avanti Popolo (1986), directed by Rafi Bukai, about a group of Egyptian soldiers stranded in the desert, who are trying to make their way back home.
In terms of portraits of places, streets, and cities – in Coexistence: Portrait of Abbas St. in Haifa (1979), The War After the War (1969), and The 60’s in Israel: Leisure Time Culture (1970) to name but a few, Shagrir successfully weaved together his work as a journalist and broadcaster and his social activism as a filmmaker and director. He is ever-present in all of those projects; in his trademark humility, his irony-tinged writing which, however acerbic and biting it could be, also exuded an abundance of love and compassion to Israelis, and with profound curiosity and interest in his fellow man. As a producer, his default frame of mind was never a ratings-driven one but rather, a genuine attempt at offering audiences a fascinating, in-depth, and enriching look at life in the State of Israel.
The film footage featured in this collection represents 50 years of filmmaking, at the heart of which is Israeli society in its many forms of onscreen representation over the years. Whether a live documentation of real-life events or a fictional film narrative, Shagrir is a master at capturing the zeitgeist which he manifested through the voice-over narration that underscores his films, and of course also through the cinematography and editing. Many of the films compiled here explore the fundamental importance of film documentation, whether it be via the camera or the written word, and the medium’s role as a vehicle whose primary purpose is to tell the greater human tale of solidarity and camaraderie between us all – and to examine reality through a fresh lens, even when it allegedly seems about as black and white as can be.
Shagrir’s countless productions – all of which feature historical landmarks in the wars that Israel has fought, the country’s Jewish immigration and integration journey, and a range of other issues including culture, politics, the economy, and so forth – are all fundamental milestones in the ongoing coalescing of Israeli society’s many moving parts. Shagrir’s oeuvre easily lends itself to dozens more collections that would span many a theme. For now, this collection, offers a first, tantalising glimpse of his wide-ranging body of work. Please note that every film in the collection is accompanied by a short introductory text below.