In Israel, there’s a wealth of filmmaking talent. There are five film schools and seven cinematheques in a country of eight million people. Various government film funds finance Israeli films but that money can only go so far. The local industry thrives on co-productions, most notably with France and Germany. Producer Gal Greenspan, 36, who has been working on co-productions with various nations, hopes to extend his reach to Australia via his Green Productions as he has recently relocated to Melbourne with his Australian-born wife, Kate Rosenberg.
We first met at the Berlin Film Festival when his 2013 feature, Youth, premiered. We recently caught up at the Jerusalem Film Festival where he had two films in the program, Scaffolding, which is set in a high school (and, like Youth, took out Jerusalem's top prize), and Menashe, one of my favourite films of the year that focuses on an ultra-Orthodox man with an incredible comedic talent living in a closed community in New York state. (The story is fictional, but drawn from Menashe’s life.)
Watch 'Youth' on SBS Viceland
10.20pm, Monday 7 August
Director: Tom Shoval
Starring: Eitan Cunio, David Cunio, Shirli Deshe, Moshe Ivgy
What's it about?
In Tel Aviv, two brothers kidnap a girl from a rich family in the aim that the ransom will cover their family's money problems.
While Greenspan is currently busy producing Tom Shoval's new film, Shake Your Cares Away, one of the biggest announcements at JFF was that his company will produce a high-profile omnibus film, The Quarters. Four international filmmakers, Todd Solondz (US), Mohsen Makmalbaf (Iran), Anna Muylaert (Brazil) and Arsinée Khanjian (Armenian-Canadian, Atom Egoyan’s screenwriter/actress wife), will shoot four 20-minute films in the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City.
HB: It’s interesting that you chose an Iranian director for the Muslim quarter.
GG: We didn't want the obvious. We want filmmakers coming from the outside giving their perspective. I thought it would be interesting to have an Iranian perspective to the Old City and an Armenian woman to direct in the Armenian quarter. Todd Solondz, he’s much different than any other Jewish director in the world, and Anna Muylaert’s previous film, The Second Mother, was a film about women and we thought it would be interesting to take someone from the favelas dreaming of the Jerusalem ideal for the Christian quarter. We’re already talking about another project that's kind of similar and we could even take the idea to Australia.
HB: What is your background?
GG: I first studied in a production course at the Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem. I graduated in 2008 and straight afterwards opened my own production company, Green Productions, and quickly added a partner. It started with me picking up a few talents from Sam Spiegel – filmmakers for whom I’d been producing their graduation films with the intention of producing their feature films. One of them was Tom Shoval’s first film, Youth. I thought it would be quicker, because I’m young and ambitious, but it takes time to produce feature films and make a living. So I opened a commercial department and added a partner. Now, eight years later, the company has a commercial department, a film department and a special projects department, each with their own team.
HB: Maton Yair’s Scaffolding just won the main Jerusalem Festival prize, “for a film that combines the reality of a group of teenagers and the will of questioning cinema and the role of filmmaking. For its capacity of capturing the tenderness sometimes behind these kids' violence, their capacity for love, their surprising imagination, in a society that places them in a marginal role forever.”
GG: Maton is an interesting writer/director. He studied at the Sam Spiegel Film School and actually was working as a teacher in a high school. He was shooting a film, and it was very rough with him and another guy filming in the class. I said, “There’s a great energy, so let’s make it happen.” We won the pitching at Pitch Point at the Jerusalem Festival last year, and at the same time, we got in touch with a Polish co-producer and the film went ahead. We made it with a small budget and wanted to film the same class Maton was teaching before they graduated. He shot the film in October and November very quickly. In May, it screened in Cannes in the ACID section, with the aim of getting a French distributor and that worked. In Australia, Eddie Tamir will distribute the film through the Jewish Film Festival and he has two cinemas for a theatrical release.
HB: Menashe is set for a Christmas release through Rialto in Australia and I think it will do well.
GG: We hope so. It’s been picked up by A24 in the US, which is good, too. We still don't have a good distribution deal in Israel. I think it’s not extremely interesting for them – it’s too close and it’s mainly an American film. But it will definitely find a way to screen here because the JFF screenings have been brilliant. When Menashe saw the film, it was his first time in a cinema and it’s a film with a lot of humanity. But we’re small partners in the production. The main producer, Alex Lipschultz (also the writer), is American. I feel like if I wasn't living in Israel and I was living in a different country we definitely could have had more participation.
HB: So that encouraged you to work in Australia?
GG: Yes, it opened my eyes for the move to Australia. And I think it could work because I trust my taste and my team’s tastes for films that can attract an audience and be interesting for the global market. Once I move to Australia, I’m keen to create co-productions because there are not many Australian co-productions with different countries. In Israel, the audience is limited because of the language and I feel like I’ll have an opportunity in Australia to create English-speaking films. I have access to great scriptwriters in Israel, and could maybe try to bring a script from Israel to work on with Australian writers and directors. We’re already making one or two feature films a year at Green Productions and I feel only good things can happen on top of that in Australia.
HB: There aren’t so many Australian co-productions?
GG: If you look at map of Australian films, 10 or maybe 20 percent are co-productions. In Israel, it’s much higher – for us they comprise 90 percent of the films we co-produce. I believe in co-productions not only for the money but because I believe in creating a bigger, happier family for the film. Having more people standing behind the film will push it further.
HB: What is attractive for you about working in Australia so far?
GG: I’ve been to Australia once a year for the last eight years so I know it a bit. I’m already in touch with a couple of producers there who are doing amazing films, like Jamie Hilton from See Pictures (The Little Death, The Waiting City and Simon Baker’s upcoming directing debut, Breath). We both have very good contacts and we’re trying to create something together.
HB: Can you compare your projects in Israel and Australia?
GG: In Israel, they’re more cultural/arthouse, and the films I’m aiming to do in Australia are much more commercial. Of course, every film I’m doing has to have some kind of message or something I believe in and not be just a straight-out comedy. A film we pitched at JFF is a black comedy about breastfeeding where a woman takes her breast milk and sells it for the highest price. It’s a comedy that talks about capitalism and what we’ve become as a society. We want to make films that can arouse discussion and try to make the world a better place.