Micha Shagrir - 50 years of Filmmaking

Edited by Benjamin freidenberg
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Movie Clips


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.

Click here to go to the full Micha Shagrir Film Collection

Movie clips

Diary of an Egyptian Soldier

A film based on a diary that was found on the body of an Egyptian soldier who was killed by the Israelis during the “Yom Kippur” war (1973). The film also documents the voyage to Alexandria, Egypt, and an emotional meeting with the soldier’s family in order to return the diary. In addition, the film also presents excerpts from the dead soldier’s diary that provide a glimpse to his most personal thoughts, dreams and aspirations. This is a touching story that shows life’s beauty which is abruptly cut by war and death.

Eye Witness - 60 Years

Israel, as envisioned through the lens of the internationally acclaimed photographer David Rubinger, the laureate of the Israeli Award for Photography. Rubinger began his career in 1947 and has since documented famous leaders and exciting characters, witnessing the dramatic events that occurred in Israel over the past 60 years. In the film, Rubinger travels back to the places and people he photographed over the years, providing viewers with a deeper knowledge of contemporary Israeli reality. Rubinger’s pictures reflect his own biography, professional views and experiences. Above all his iconographic images mark milestones of Israeli history expressing the joys, sorrows, dreams and visions of Israel.

Friday, Town Square

On top of his film and television body of work, Micha Shagrir was also a news reporter, radio presenter, and journalist. Not one to ever recoil from calling out Israeli society’s indifference and complacency, Shagrir would always look reality in the eye and commit to exhaustive, rigorous research of his every subject matter. Here, when he turns his camera onto Jerusalem’s Zion Square – where Ben Yahuda St., Jaffa Road, and Nahalat Shiv’a St. all meet – at the very beating heart of Jerusalem, Shagrir does not stop at nostalgia and also shines a light on the city’s many still-open wounds.
Shagrir brings us a collection of intertwining stories which, together, form a patchwork of Jerusalem life: both old and new, Israeli and Palestinian, imaginary and real. He lingers on the city centre’s old cinemas, with a special emphasis on the Zion film theatre where Jewish-Arab partnerships were struck up – both behind the screen as cinema owners, and in front of it, as filmgoers.
The film explores the ultimate failure of this partnership through a series of historic moments which the cinema was part of, including the establishing of the State of Israel, and the country’s various wars and conflicts. In a time when a television set was a scarce commodity in people’s homes, the Jerusalem cinema was the place everyone turned to for their current affairs fix, packaged as newsreels which the cinema would show ahead of the evening’s main feature film presentation. Here, for the first time on Israeli screens, Shagrir dives into the subject of Jerusalem cinemas as joint businesses, co-owned by Jewish and Palestinian families. Of course, the utopia which the big screens had enticed viewers with at the time through Bollywood musicals, Hollywood Westerns, and so on was ultimately doomed; and indeed, it all came crashing down upon the launch of Israeli television and the subsequent changes in filmgoers’ leisure and entertainment habits.
The closing down of the local cinemas marked the tipping point of no return in relations between Jerusalemite Palestinians and Jews. The city’s underlying tensions caried over well into the 1990s at the time this film was shooting, and never did cease – even whilst leaders of both sides were sat together, fleshing out the Oslo Accords.

S.Y. Agnon

A rare, first of its kind peek into the world of Nobel Prize laureate in the literature category, Shmuel Yosef (aka, S.Y.) Agnon (1887-1970), through his so-called daily routine spanning the course of one week in his life. Micha Shagrir had a knack for identifying the most compelling screen heroes long before they’d ever received any kind of media fanfare; and so, just six months before Agnon was named that year’s Nobel Literature Prize recipient, Shagrir managed to coax him in front of the camera. Here, Agnon – who was always fully immersed in the written word and his imaginary universe and had vehemently avoided cameras and all forms of media attention – is captured on film for the very first time; this, after dozens and dozens of preliminary talks and exhaustive research. Agnon initially gave Shagrir and cinematographer, Yahin Hirsch, just one hour to get all their footage but eventually, his resolve softened and he ended up extending them six hours of his time and self that day.
Up until his Nobel Prize win several months later, neither Israeli Foreign nor Education ministries saw fit to invest in the film, therefore Shagrir had to incur the production costs himself. Following Agnon’s win, the film was recut and released in several versions (including Hebrew, English, and French), shown on various media outlets round the world, and echoed the surge of national pride that swelled with an Israeli winning the prestigious prize.
The plot moves along two lines with a major gap between them that is maintained all throughout the film. The first plotline explores the tension between the author’s humble existence in Jerusalem’s barren Talpiot neighbourhood and the international acclaim he had earned in Stockholm. Then, the second storyline examines the complex place Agnon found himself occupying; labelled Israel’s national author on the one hand, when in fact his writing was almost exclusively set in an Eastern European Jewish world that was now in ruins and was so far removed from the then-Israeli zeitgeist. Agnon felt he was denied his rightful recognition by the Israeli establishment which made sure it nurtured and invested in authors who had focused on depicting the nascent days of Israel from a pioneering, Zionist, native Israeli point of view. These very gaps, Shagrir sets out to bridge in this film which takes tremendous strides towards unlocking Agnon’s extraordinary magic and charm as a distinctly Jerusalemite figure who existed on the peripheries of society, and who has now been made accessible to a wider audience which, previously, had no knowledge of the author or his body of work.

Scouting Patrol

The first ever Israeli-made Western was directed by Micha Shagrir in 1967 and shot by Yahin Hirsch. The script, penned by Avraham Heffner, is based on a 1954 true story about an IDF scouting patrol that went into Hebron on a mission to apprehend a wanted terrorist. Shagrir, who had an eye for untapped, young talent cast the likes of then-newcomers Ze’ev Revach and Lior Yeini, and one young Assi Dayan in a guest appearance role. The film was shot in black and white in Jerusalem (and features, among other things, footage of the old railway station and the neighbourhood of Abu Tor where Shagrir was living), as well as a host of desert locations, including the Zohar brook which gave the end result a distinct Middle-Eastern-meets-Western-esque look and feel.
Filming began in 1966 but was shut down when the Six-Day War broke out. After the war, shooting resumed and the film was able to wrap and hit the big screens. Composer, Sasha Argov’s original score produced a soundtrack that blends together a Hollywood Western sound with a catalogue of Hebrew repertoire songs most synonymous with the country’s pioneering Jewish migrants. Two songs written especially for the film by journalist, songwriter, and media figure Yaron London became charting hits at the time, including Amichai, sung by the four scout protagonists, and Scouts’ Ballad (‘baladat sayarim’,) performed by Yehoram Gaon.
Scouting Patrol was a film ahead of its time and became the first ever Israeli motion picture to explore attitudes towards Arab-Israelis and Palestinians; this, whilst portraying them as equally legitimate characters – fully fleshed out human beings whose treatment at Israeli hands had to be assessed by the standards of universal morals. The New Sensitivity Israeli film movement that peaked in the 1970s and ‘80s and was focused, amongst other things, on the national and political treatment of Palestinians, recognised a first harbinger of its ideology in this film. Therefore, many consider its subsequent flop an illustration of the period’s post-war euphoria that dominated the land – a time that simply could not reconcile a film that tackled the notion of ‘victory’ in the context of pertinent moral questions – with no odes, songs of praise, or any nationalist bells and whistles.
This particular theme has consistently underscored virtually all conflicts featured in Israeli cinema’s military-centric films, to date. The film’s ballooning costs and the subsequent debts that Shagrir and the producers found themselves in became the impetus behind the founding of Castel Communications which instantly became Israel’s number one, most successful commercial production company – a status it would maintain until the end of the 1980s.

The People of Masaha

Micha Shagrir was one of the first filmmakers to boldly capture life in formerly Palestinian villages that have since been repopulated by Jews. His chronicling of daily life at the Kfar Tavor village, about 17 years after the 1948 War of Independence and two years before the 1967 Six-Day War has since become an archival document of major significance. Masaha was the name of the Palestinian village that stood in the same place where Kfar Tavor is now. This film explores the past life of this once-Arab village versus its present-day Jewish identity at the time of filming. Without shying away from politically explosive and socially sensitive topics, Shagrir looks reality straight in the eye and shows it in all its true colours. With the help of his gifted cinematographer, Yahin Hirsch, a rare cinematic portrait is painted in which all the fine touches of narrative film are combined with a layer of fiction and a memory-soaked atmosphere, all of which are then juxtaposed with present day footage.
In this quiet Jewish community, brewing just beneath the surface are stories and histories of former inhabitants who had worked the same land. This film is a young Shagrir’s directorial debut. In the coming decades he would continue to study and engage with Israeli society’s inner-most stirrings, including its domestic and political conflicts, whilst always coming up with novel ways of using narrative and documentary film devices together.

The War After the War

Produced mere months after the end of the 1967 Six-Day War and during the War of Attrition, this film reveals an altogether different reality to what the overall then-national state of euphoria across the land might have suggested. The War After the War is built like a patchwork of original, real-time and archive footage, and newsreel excerpts – all full of conflicts, contrasts, and cultural clashes. On the one hand, you have discos and nightclubs, swimsuits and Tel Aviv beauty pageants – and on the other, there’s war, carnage, injuries, and fatalities. With a hint of irony and a heart full of compassion, Micha Shagrir looks Israelis straight in the eye and reveals a paranoid society riddled with genocidal and postwar PTSD in one of the biggest grossing films in Israeli box office history that went on to become the country’s most watched documentary until the noughties.
Like many of Shagrir’s other films, here too, the original music included in the score was etched into Israeli society’s collective memory. This was made possible in no small part by two songs included in the soundtrack: composer Nachum Heiman’s Pursuit (‘mirdaf’) performed by Chava Alberstein, and Ma Avarekh (‘what blessing shall I say?’), written by Rachel Shapira and Yair Rosenblum and performed by Rivka Zohar.
The masterful editing takes radio and television news bulletins of the period, all of which tried to paint a utopian, rose-tinted, escapist picture of reality, and intercuts those with ordinary Israeli figures whose daily lives are fundamentally different. The cross-referencing of excerpts taken from international media reports and Israeli media with day-to-day scenes paints a most fascinating, surprising, satirical, touching, and deeply unsettling portrait of a nation disturbed – in addition to prophesying the impending Yom Kippur War.

Sarajevo Convoy

Sarajevo is under siege, Yugoslavia is falling apart, and in April of 1992 the Bosnian War breaks out. From the outset of the war until February 1996, countless public buildings were hit by nonstop bombing campaigns, including the Great Synagogue and the old Jewish cemetery. The fighting in Sarajevo was now putting the Jewish community at grave risk and in the winter 1994, around 300 local Jews are smuggled out of the city in a rescue operation co-led by the Jewish Agency and the JDC (the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, aka ‘Joint’). Sarajevo’s Jews were taken to Zagreb and from there, some immigrated to Israel.
Per the Israeli government’s request, Shagrir’s team goes over to war-torn Bosnia to accompany the rescue mission and document the operation through one-on-one interviews with the Jewish refugees. The real-time filming of the mission is not portrayed as a military operation as such; nor does it focus on the rescuers. Instead, it is portrayed as a critical juncture in the lives of individuals who have had their lives and everything they have ever known upended virtually overnight.
Shagrir himself was smuggled out of Austria along with his family on the cusp of World War II, and many years later he would also be in charge of documenting Ethiopian Jewry’s mass immigration campaigns. Unlike the news specials that spent their majority of onscreen time focusing on the operation itself and its organisers, Shagrir here seizes the opportunity he’d been presented with to engage with the local Jewish community and discuss an array of far more complex and perhaps less topical issues such as identity, geography, and destiny.
Shagrir was the great documenter of Jewish communities both near and remote across the diaspora. He leaves behind an abundance of raw footage and historical community portraits – from Japan and all the way to Cuba. The conversations he had struck up with his subjects reveal both their common denominators and the areas where they differ.

A Journey to the Falasha

Micha Shagrir would regularly accompany IDF forces and Jewish Agency teams to film and document Israel’s largest Jewish immigration campaigns, en masse. In 1972, a decade before Operation Moses which brought the first mass wave of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, Castel Communications – Shagrir and Dan Arazi’s production company headed to Ethiopia at the behest of the Prime Minister’s Office to film the local Jewish community in the early days of the African nation’s civil war. This rare, first of its kind documentation offered a moving, humane exploration of Ethiopia’s Jewry and their legacy. The footage includes, among other things scenes from Hebrew lessons, reading the Torah, Kosher-keeping practices, and rural synagogue life. The interviews with the community’s Jewish men and women cover a range of complex issues such as identity, religion, and belongingness that will later be at the very forefront of the discussion about the community’s integration and assimilation (formerly known as absorption) into Israel.
Director Yossi Godard’s rare footage, featured in this Castel-produced film, was used by the state and Israeli television as an essential public PR tool for promoting the mass immigration campaigns, and as major points of reference for decisionmakers at the top – both a decade and two decades later. Shagrir would spend the next 40 years shadowing Ethiopian Jewry’s mass immigration waves to Israel and their subsequent integration into their adoptive country by revisiting the same subjects every few years. These immigrants’ intimate portraits later also found their way into several other films which Shagrir either produced or directed, including Operation Ten, Between Harar and Goree: Tamar Golan – African Pages, The Envoy, When Israel Went Out, Yona Bogale, and many more.

Avanti Popolo

One of Israeli film’s most successful and critically acclaimed motion pictures of all time which began as director, Rafi Bukai’s graduation project at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Film and Television Studies. At the end of the 1967 Six-Day War, two Egyptian soldiers are trying to make their way back home through the desolate Sinai Desert, under the scorching sun. In their efforts to evade the Israeli military, they will stop at nothing to stay alive. Here, the ‘other’s’ point of view, i.e. the enemy’s becomes a masquerade of identities and survival.
Micha Shagrir and Dan Arazi’s production company, Castel Communications, that was also very a much a place where young talents were groomed and nurtured, gave Bukai all the necessary tools to expand Avanti Popolo from a film student’s graduation project into a feature-length motion picture. Bukai was heavily influenced by Shagrir’s documentary, Diary of an Egyptian Soldier, which came out about seven years earlier, and whose focus was also on an Egyptian soldier’s wartime journey. The bigger questions raised by both documentary and narrative films tackle the essence of war and its memory as experienced by the individual, versus its heroic enshrining in nations and states’ collective memory. The importance of wartime footage and documentation, as it is emphasised in several scenes in the film, dialogues with many of Shagrir’s other films that managed to capture the harsh battlefield reality in real-time, from an intimate, individual, and humane point of view, miles away from the pomposity of fighter jets and tank fire’s thunderous explosions.
One of the soldiers in Avanti Popolo is an actor in a Cairo theatre company who was called in for army reserve duty right in the middle of rehearsing Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice where he was due to play Shylock, the Jew. The identity swapping that goes on in the film confronts soldiers of either side with the harsh truth about national, religious, and political borders that ultimately reduce their identities to one-dimensional cardboard characters. These very borders and boundaries were at the heart of Shagrir’s body of work in his 50 years of filmmaking. For him, the most natural response was to cross them, embrace human curiosity, and embark on an exploration of whatever lay beyond.

Advert Compilation

Micha Shagrir and Dan Arazi’s production house, Castel, was the country’s single-most successful company in the 1970s and ‘80s. These producers and directors who had trained at the BBC, came back to Israel to infuse local screens with a rich diversity of Israeli and international productions. At the time, Israel had just the one broadcast network but that did not stop the company from becoming a prominent content provider to various networks around the world, striking up multiple business and creative relationships that benefited the local film and television industry to no end.
The partnership between the advertising industry and Israeli film and theatre secured jobs and funding for dozens of Israeli film actors and actresses who were just starting out at the time. Castel produced thousands of adverts both in Israel and overseas for a range of Israeli companies including air carrier, El Al, and for many cities and various tourism schemes. At the same time, government offices, local councils, and the Israel Electric Corporation (the country’s national electricity provider) also commissioned Castel’s services to produce the country’s first ever adverts. In the seventies, under the title The Jerusalem Reels, the company produced well over 20 ads promoting the city of Jerusalem. Thousands of other films showcased the very best and finest of Israeli content, boasting it as testimony of the nation’s collective social and national resilience. Nowadays, these films stand out as archival gems that offer but a glimpse of the fundamental changes to the period’s consumerist, societal, and political concepts, whilst also showcasing Castel’s own tech prowess as a production company that led the local creative scene’s forward march into the future.

Jerusalem - Light is Shining Through

A great many Israeli film directors started out making adverts at Micha Shagrir and Dan Arazi’s production company, Castel. This advert, directed by Ron Ninio (Arab Labor, A Touch Away), is an ode to Jerusalem, made to bring in the tourists by the droves. Commissioned by the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Israeli Hotel Association, the film gives the young, fresh, and vibrant Jerusalem its big onscreen debut – a Jerusalem teeming with bars, music, and gigs.
The film features one of the most played US singer-songwriters of the period – Don McLean, who wrote the timeless classic, American Pie. McLean, whose then-partner was Jewish had visited Israel frequently in the 1970s and ‘80s. He was approached to appear in the film with one of his original songs, Jerusalem, that would later become an international hit.
The youthful, bustling, devil-may-care atmosphere of 1981 Jerusalem was captured on seasoned Israeli cinematographer, Yahin Hirsch’s camera, through the point of view of a young Ron Ninio at the directing helm. The film, which opens with an imposing, lumbering crane shot of Damascus Gate and the Old City, ends with singing and dancing at a smokey bar in the town centre, packed full of young, happy-go-lucky Jerusalemite punters.

The Elhadad Family

This film brings viewers the story of the Elhadads – a family originally from Meknes, Morocco. The family’s 11 children all ended up dispersed between France, Israel, and Morocco. Consequently, the Elhadads find themselves confronting unresolved questions of identity that’s split across three countries. As they grapple with displays of racism and discrimination coming from various directions, the film also explores their relationship with concepts such as home, Judaism, nationality, and the State of Israel.
Long before Mizrahi (Sephardi, Arab, and North African Jews) discourse entered the Israeli cultural zeitgeist, Micha Shagrir boldly blew the lid off this particular Pandora’s box by following the story of one family in real-time. Shagrir actively avoids limiting the discussion to the then-dire state of Israel’s industrial towns. Nor does he reduce it to an isolated immigrant integration and assimilation story or spin it into a statement about Israeli governments’ treatment of its North African immigrants. In his distinct cinematic way that became his artistic trademark, Shagrir broadens the discourse and goes as far as to accompany the family members who’d never even made it to Israel, delving delving into their approach to Judaism and Israel which is markedly different to that of their relatives who had managed to immigrate and integrate. A moment in time in which Ashkenazi students show up at these Mizrahi-dominated industrial towns to infuse them with a bit of culture and education makes the film all the more charged with the voices of local protesters and activists.
Twelve years after their first encounter at the end of the First Gulf War, Shagrir reconnects with the Elhadads to find out what’s become of them and what, if anything, has changed in their perspective that’s guided them through life.

General Election Ad Campaigns

Timeless Israeli election ad jingles such as Labour’s Israel’s Holding out for Rabin and Likud’s Likud’s the Only One that Can weren’t conceived in the Knesset’s hallways but rather, in ad agencies. The marriage of television production and politics was a natural development of the medium’s growth and expansion in the 1980s and ‘90s which gave rise to an explosion of new broadcast networks and ad agencies. Micha Shagrir and Dan Arazi’s production company, Castel, which was active between 1969 – 1988 and was Israel’s largest and most successful production house in that period, was also the first company to have had its own commercial film studio where dozens of multidisciplinary creatives were employed, and who went on to contribute and enrich the local TV and film landscape to no end.
In the 1970s, Castel Productions started producing informercials, corporate videos, and general election ad campaigns for various political parties and government agencies. The company’s tech standards and creativity soon made it the number one, most sought after producer of election ad campaigns by both right and left wing parties. And so, the Castel production crew would often find themselves on a shoot with the likes of Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz who was advocating for a withdrawal from the Occupied Territories on (long-defunct left wing party) Ratz’s election ad, only to then move on to men and women enjoying gender-segregated Hassidic dancing for (long-defunct religious nationalist party) Mafdal’s ad campaign. The mark left by Castel Productions on Israeli general election ads stands out to this day when looking at the connection between advertising, humour, satire, and party politics.

An episode of Hello Jerusalem

Hello Jerusalem was a TV programme that ran for over 200 episodes. Produced by Castel Films, the series aired from 1982 – 1986 on both US and Canadian cable networks. Every week, for four years, an hour-long episode would air, portraying life in Israel from various points of view, featuring a range of topics, and bringing local Israeli news and the latest hot topics of the day to millions of North American viewers.
Hello Jerusalem became the first ever Israeli TV programme to air internationally. It offered a bridge between Israeli audiences and Jews in the diaspora, and between various denominations within Judaism, leading and facilitating lively discussions and debates amongst the various communities. At the same time, the episodes also provided a rare glimpse of life in 1980s Israel. Instead of the primetime news version of Israel, Hello Jerusalem delivered an unabridged, unofficial Israel to its viewers – the peripheral, backyard version if you will.
Hello Jerusalem, whose production has Micha Shagrir’s unique stamp all over it, provided a trailblazing look at a burgeoning Israel and the people living there. Episodes tackled an array of issues: from equality in Israeli society to consumerism and capitalism vs. solidarity and socialism. Questions were raised about art and Israeli culture, and the definition of the ‘New Jew’. Immigrants and emigrants were also brought up, including a focus on children of Israelis who have chosen to live abroad, and their attitudes towards the State of Israel.

The Sixties in Israel – Leisure Time Culture

Humour, irony, compassion, and satire are all intertwined in this extended piece which Shagrir directed for Israeli television. Transitioning away from the militaristic, battle-worn society of yesteryear into the civilian-centric, consumerist 1970s, Shagrir turns his camera onto a seemingly inconsequential item, asking: what do Israelis do for leisure? Well, as it turned out, quite a lot. It also emerged that a look at a country’s leisure habits also offered precious insight into the spirit of the time and society’s efforts to destress, shed its traumas, and break away from the state’s socialist traditions.
The burgeoning leisure culture includes meditation workshops, adult dance classes, gyms, carwashes, live music gigs, television broadcasts, and so much more. The exceptionally-edited piece manages to paint a portrait of an emergent, new identity; one that has not evolved in the battlefield but rather, in the family lounge on a Friday night, or at the local hairdresser’s. Shagrir also does not shy away from portraying the fringe culture of cafes and ‘bespoke’ cinemas that showed adult films in the afternoon to random men.
This is a complementary piece to Shagrir’s growing list of films and stories that dealt with war, battlefield casualties, and PTSD-stricken soldiers on the one hand, and the establishment’s treatment of Mizrahi Jews and North African immigrants, on the other. Shagrir’s piece mirrors some very deep social and political processes in a country that is still trying to make its way towards something resembling universal normality which may very well always remain beyond the mountains and hills, almost within reach.

Bat Yam – New York

The extended Zlayet family all moved to Israel from Iraq. Shlomo and Dina, the family’s traditional parents, must reconcile themselves with their five children’s lifestyles: one is still living at home; one daughter is no rush to get married; another son is living in LA and working in the adult entertainment industry; the fourth child, another daughter, is living in New York City where she mostly dates non-Jews, whilst the youngest, Tzahal, seems to be a constant magnet for mishap.
Bat Yam – New York, a trailblazing dramedy first premiered at the end of 1995 on Israel’s Channel Two. Commissioned by broadcaster, Keshet, the series enjoyed a successful two-season run. The man behind it was Micha Shagrir who is indeed credited as its co-creator, alongside Yossi Madmoni and David Ofek. Shagrir who was the then-chairman of the Sam Spiegel School of Film and Television board, headhunted the two immediately after they’d graduated, ahead of Israel’s newest broadcast network, Channel Two’s big launch.
Bat Yam – New York brought an altogether novel type of content, directing, acting, and cinematic aesthetic to what had previously been seen on Israeli screens. Professional and amateur actors appeared alongside folks who were playing themselves, thereby giving the series an almost documentary-esque vibe, whilst the sometimes palpable ethnic tensions were always served with fine, nuanced, intelligent humour, rooted in irony-tinged, compassionate observations of a fractured Israeli society. The encounter between the series’ characters and Assi Dayan’s who was following them added an additional layer which not only addressed the storyline itself, but also facilitated an internal conversation within the Israeli film industry about ethnic representation, content and form, and the fine line between narrative and documentary film and television-making.

Coexistence: Portrait of Abbas St. in Haifa

Coexistence in Haifa? Micha Shagrir goes out in search of answers along one street where Arabs and Jews live together. The interviews with the locals are honest and organic; taking place in their living rooms, kitchens, or whilst having a smoke, in a way that draws the boldest, most honest answers out of Shagrir’s subjects. Shagrir visits Geffen House (an Arab-Jewish cultural centre) and the library and also calls on judo lessons and school yards in search of undercurrents of violence and racism that occur alongside good neighbourly relations and community solidarity. The generational gaps between the old and the young are evident in the tensions that maintain the status quo between the religions and two peoples.
This is but a tantalising taste of a series of stories Shagrir directed for Israeli television in an effort to provide an in-depth look at the social shifts and processes taking place both in the major cities and in industrial towns. Shagrir had no intention of approaching this piece as a field reporter hunting for scoops and exposes about murder and violence; instead, he sought to get to the bottom of the unnerving quiet in times of relative peace.
Shagrir found willing interlocutors everywhere he went and indeed, he gave them the stage to speak their mind. He devoted precious screen time to the mundane and peripheral, ratings be damned. Employing a riveting editing and directing strategy, in Coexistence: Portrait of Abbas St. in Haifa, Shagrir takes the in-depth interviews he’d conducted in his subjects’ homes and combines them with exterior footage of various physical activities taking place out on the street. In doing so, he is able to highlight the contrasts that often stand out between the two and point those out to the viewers. Along the line that divides Lower Haifa and the neighbourhoods of Upper Haifa, Shagrir reveals a fine texture of Israeli life, ever-living on the precipice.

Just like the Queen of England

This film explores the DNA of Israeli culture by chronicling the surprising, wonderous, and moving life story of one artist. David Bergman was just a boy in France when the Nazis conquered Paris. He was left on his own, motherless, and forced to fend for himself. Fortunately for him, not only was he a talented, charismatic young boy, he also blessed with unrivalled street smarts which is how he survived. Sixty-nine years on, Bergman tells his story to Micha Shagrir and shares his longing for a long-lost France and Israel: how he went from a French Holocaust survivor to a kibbutznik; then, a director who had worked with the likes of Uri Zohar and Arik Einstein in The Nahal Troupe and later, at Haifa Theatre, and as Headmaster of the Beit Zvi School for the Performing Arts.
The conversation between Bergman and the Austrian-born Shagrir whose family had fled Europe before World War II is devoid of any sentimentality or nostalgic waxing, opting instead for a sobering look at Israeli and European reality. In this finely nuanced, sensitive attempt at cracking Israeli culture’s genetic code, Shagrir dives into the deepest, furthest corners of Bergman’s captivating persona. Sculpting, painting, acting, and directing are all mentioned here in various biographical contexts; all of which went on to have a major impact on the local culture, arts, and avantgarde scene.

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