Award-winning Israeli director-screenwriter Joseph Cedar
says that in the past decade, Israeli filmmaking has gone from frank failure to startling success. "The dynamic of the industry now is extremely competitive and forces anyone making films to do better work," says Cedar, 43, whose 2011 movie Footnote
won Israeli Ophir Awards for best director and best screenplay as well as the best screenplay award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
"It's clearly due to more than one factor. There is a new generation of filmmakers and of public officials who have the power to decide where funds go. There is also the magical factor having to do with the connection between what the audience wants and what filmmakers want to make."
That's a big leap from 2000, when his first film, Time of Favor
, was released. Cedar said during a 2005 interview that his declared intent with this maiden project was "a reaction against the failure of Israeli cinema to reach an audience. Despite the fact that there are Israeli movies that I very much like, there isn't much influence of Israeli cinema on my work." He cited American director-writer-producer James L. Brooks as a role model.
Today, however, his primary concern is that Israeli filmmakers are advancing almost too rapidly. "We have to ask ourselves how to sustain this level," he says during a phone interview from Tel Aviv, where he lives with his wife, Globes writer Vered Kellner, and their three children.
Cedar was born in New York to Howard (Haim) Cedar, a biochemist who has won the Israel Prize and the Wolf Prize, and Tzippi Cedar, a psychodrama therapist. The family moved to Israel when he was in first grade. He and his six siblings grew up in a religious neighborhood in Jerusalem, and he attended a yeshiva high school before earning a degree in philosophy and the history of theater at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
He then pursued cinema studies at New York University, returned to Israel and moved to a West Bank settlement for two years in order to gather material to write Time of Favor (HaHesder in Hebrew). The film won six Ophir awards from the Israel Film Academy, including best picture.
His second film, Campfire
(2004), also centered on West Bank settlers and garnered five Ophirs including best picture, best director and best screenplay. For Beaufort
(2007), based on Ron Leshem's bestselling novel about Israel's military retreat from Lebanon, Cedar received international accolades including Israel's first Academy Award nomination in 24 years.
In Footnote, also considered a likely Oscar contender in the foreign film category, Cedar focused his lens on Hebrew philology (the study of linguistics in literature) and Talmudic scholarship through the story of father-son rival professors. "The more esoteric the topic, the bigger the passion," Cedar said in an October New York Times interview about the film.