Finding Films


Rachel S. Harris, Ph.D.

Finding Films

FAU Researcher Wins Fulbright to Study Historical Israeli Cinema

Little is known about Israeli Cinema from 1947 to 1967, even by scholars, according to Rachel S. Harris, Ph.D., Eminent Scholar in the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters. Yet, it plays an important role in the European film industry during a post-war era.

To understand why this period became invisible when so much has been written about the industry in the 1930s and before, and from the 1970s and after, Harris earned a Fulbright Scholar Award for her project titled “With a Wider Lens: Recovering Lost Israeli Cinema 1947- 1967.” The project examines the dozens of feature films, documentaries and informational broadcasts made in the first years of Israeli cinema. Working with scholars and archivists at Tel Aviv University, this award provides Harris the opportunity to research this foundational period in film history. Many of these films have been hidden away for decades to preserve the fragile filmstock, but now are available to view due to new digitization and restoration projects undertaken by the Israel Film Archive.

“One of the things that is particularly striking is seeing how transnational this period was, both in terms of the people involved in making films, and in the ways the films looked and the kinds of genres being used,” Harris said. “We get to see really unusual things happening, like Israeli Westerns set on camels instead of horses. We also see the direct involvement of Hollywood, not just making American films on location in Israel, but training Israelis in the major studios.”

For Harris, she said this work is important because of the historical forces that led to the migration of professionals who came to Israel to make films. For instance, Harris said, people left Germany in the 1930s when Nazis took over the film studios, who spread throughout Europe and eventually came to Israel after World War II. People fled Communism and came from Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia who were integrated into studios and film schools, while people from the United States came because they were blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

“Israel ends up becoming a microcosm of the most extreme aspects of these changes,” Harris said. “Because the industry is independent here, there aren't national studios, and there is a free press that allows us to see audience reactions and critics opinions, it's possible to see the tension between national ideology and commercial viability played out clearly in the films that get made and their reception in the public space.”

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