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FENIGSTEIN�S DREAM

Meir Fenigstein, Founder of the IFF US.
Photos: barrybrown.com
Meir Fenigstein, Founder of the IFF US.

Interview with the Founding Director of the Israeli Film Festivals in the US

By Ada Hos-Peles, The Jewish Post Correspondent

Meir Fenigstein, an Israeli drummer - known as POOGY - at the most popular and hot Israeli musical rock band KAVERET, (Beehive) - was always a dreamer. After the dismantling of the band in 1976 he has been acting for a year at the Jerusalem CHAN Theatre, wrote a few songs for the show - but was determined to pursue a music career. He dreamed of becoming a professional musician and went to study at the famous Berkley College of Music in Boston, to be more adequate to produce another dream - an album of his own music and songs.

Elliott Gould, 2009 IFF Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
Photos: barrybrown.com
Elliott Gould, 2009 IFF Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Nearly two years in Boston had convinced him that "it's not it." He found himself "more interested in the film world than being a professional musician"� The switch was gradual. He started visiting Film Festivals, learning whatever he could of the industry, reading daily the professional newspapers, and networking within the movie community. Naturally, he decided to move to Hollywood, the heart of it all and was dreaming of producing Israeli Film Festivals, bringing Israeli life and culture to the wide American population and connecting the Israeli film industry to the well-established American one. "I liked the movie industry but till then I didn't have a clue what it is really about", he confesses today with a smile.

Indeed, he has a good reason to smile. Since the first minor Festival in Boston (6 movies, $35,000 budget), then New York - he had produced and executed 24 successful Israeli Film Festivals in 3 major cities: Los Angeles, New York and Miami, (a few in Chicago as well) - all usually sold out events, with nearly a million spectators in the country viewing 800 Israeli films, including 7 that have been nominated for Academy Awards.

From Left: Elliott Gould, 2009 IFF Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and Jeff Goldblum, star of Adam Resurrected, presenter of 2009 IFF Achievement in Cinema Award.
Photos: barrybrown.com
From Left: Elliott Gould, 2009 IFF Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and Jeff Goldblum, star of Adam Resurrected, presenter of 2009 IFF Achievement in Cinema Award.

His vision, dedication and persistence have persuaded many dignitaries of the industry to join Meir's activities and support his project. Executives like Arnon Milchen, Chaim Saban and Steven Spielberg are among his supporters/sponsors. Needless to mention the Israeli Government (all Ministries and Israeli Consulates in US). Israel Council of the Arts (Pais), and private companies like ElAl, HBO, Hollywood Reporter, Millennium Films, Carmel6 and many other corporations, organizations and individuals.

The 24th IsraFest which just ended with great success at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan - was sold out, with 28 films, more than 10,000 moviegoers, and a budget of $200,000. "This year was the toughest I remember", says Fenigstein. "Firstly the Theatre on Broadway & 62nd Street which was our Home for 10 years - has been closed and I had to postpone the Festival until I found a new place, a new home. Then, the economy. The Recession, you know. People are hurting, and though they want to support - they give 25% of what usually they were giving, and truly, I am ashamed even to ask.."

From Left: Meir Fenigstein with Paul Schrader.
Photos: barrybrown.com
From Left: Meir Fenigstein with Paul Schrader.

At the Gala opening this year the Festival honored Elliott Gould with "The Life Achievement Award", the same he has received at the Haifa International Film Festival last Sukkot, serving there as the Chair of the Judges. Another Award, "Achievement in Cinema Award", went to director / screen writer Paul Schrader, whose film "Adam Resurrected" with Jeff Goldblum - who also attended the Opening - was on the program. Donald Krim, a major distributor of Israeli films in this country - received "The Visionary Award", for being a critical force in showcasing Israeli cinema in the US. There were also Panelists, Discussions with the Israeli Artists Guests, Receptions, etc.

From Left: Don Krim, Meir Fenigstein, Paul Schrader and Elliot Gould.
Photos: barrybrown.com
From Left: Don Krim, Meir Fenigstein, Paul Schrader and Elliot Gould.

"The Festival was not meant to be for entertaining the Israelis residing here", says Meir. " It's good they too benefit and are enjoying it. It was not for economic reasons as well. You can't get rich from a non-profit organization. My main aim was to show our film industry to the Americans and help Israeli creative artists to get in touch with the advanced American film industry. The Directors who are coming from Israel are not coming only to show their work, they also come to meet the right professional people.

This was my dream from the start - when I was young, somehow confused, searching my way in life. Eventually I have found myself and that's how and why I founded IsraFest Foundation, to which I have dedicated more than half of my life. I have worked a quarter of a century, during which we had wars, Intifadas, economic and political crisis, you name it - and nothing had stopped me. I never gave up", says Meir, sitting on an armchair, exhausted, but happy it's over, looking forward to his next Festival, due in February 2010, in Miami. "I am excited as if it is my first one", he smiles.