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Stephanie RONNET


Stephanie Ronnet is a regular contributor to Filmfestivals.com, she is based in Los Angeles, Montreal and Paris.
She is an entertainment industry and studio strategist, experienced in creating, developing and executing innovative brand strategies and impactful campaigns.
As a reporter, Stephanie was first published at 15 years of age in the UNESCO Courier, and writes for Filmfestivals.com consistently.  
Over the years, Stephanie has been the Executive Director of the French American Chamber of Commerce, Senior Executive at Entertainment News Agency, Filmfestivals.com, and she ran FOX SEARCHLIGHT France releasing One Hour Photo, Dancer Upstairs and other great movies. 
Stephanie defines herself as a Swiss knife driven by her love of cinema. She focuses on the making of her first film which she wrote, and looks for great projects to produce.


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Interview of MEIR FENIGSTEIN, Founder of the Israel Film Festival in the USA by Stephanie Ronnet

Stacey Keach -  M Fenigstein

On April 18th, Los Angeles had an Israeli flavor as the 27th edition of the Israel Film Festival kicked off. The festivities were in full swing. The audience was treated to a plentiful buffet, before walking in the theater of the WGA.

The opening film was The Ballad of The Weeping Spring, an emotional drama that won 4 Israeli Oscars (Ophir Awards) in 2012: Best Original Music, Best Original Soundtrack, Best Production design, and Best Costume design.

It screened in a full house where Hebrew, Spanish, English and French could be heard. Los Angeles celebrates the richness of the Israeli production until May 2nd.

The Festival’s founder, Meir Fenigstein, was all over the place as usual, as he greeted the celebs and the Israeli filmmakers. I interviewed Fenigstein in 2007, and felt like it was about time to go meet him again, and get the « lowdown » on the oustanding evolution of the Israeli cinema. Meir Fenigstein has a juvenile enthusiasm and a merry demeanor when he speaks about his festival, Hollywood and Israeli films…

 

Stephanie RONNET : Meir Fenigstein, can you talk about the identity of the Israeli cinema?
Meir FENIGSTEIN : The Israeli film industry has made a major step into the world cinema in the past 10 years. Israeli films are doing extremely all over the world nowadays, in major film festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Karlovy Vary, Venice, you name it. “Rock the cashbah” won Best Film in Bucarest, there were 2 Israeli films nominated at the Oscars this year, Israeli films are definitely getting more and more attention and Awards worldwide. I think that the Israeli film industry is completely different from when I started the Israeli Film Festival some 28 years ago.
For that reason, we’re no longer the “only kid in the neighborhood”, but what we do is still very important as we’re bringing la crème de la crème of last year’s Israeli production to Los Angeles.

SR: How would you describe the noticeable evolution in the Israeli production?
MF:
The screenwriters and the filmmakers have changed. As an example, the film that opens the festival : The Ballad of the Weeping Spring is based on the filmmaker’s background. It’s a story inspired by his Persian family. It shows the diversity of the Israeli society, and filmmakers are now exploring their heritage. A decade or so ago, most of the Israeli production dealt with the Arab- Israeli conflict, the Israeli army, which is no longer the case. In the festival for example, we chose to show Sharqiya, a film on the Bedouin community.

SR: In an article on The The Ballad of the Weeping Spring, I read: if not for the spoken Hebrew, one might never know it's Israeli.
Would you say that the Israeli cinema is gaining universal appeal?
MF
: Absolutely. That’s why they’re doing so well in film festivals. In Berlin, Cannes, Venice and so forth, they don’t speak Hebrew, but they understand the story, the narrative of the film and it works. 15 years ago, films were mostly made for an Israeli audience. I actually think that this is a global trend nowadays. You can watch a film online now, and you want to make sure that your film will be seen all over the world.

SR: Is the audience more diverse than it used to be? Has the Festival attracted a new audience over the years?
MF
: I think it’s a little bit more diverse. The majority remains the Israeli community though. They want to hear their language, they want to see Israel, they want to connect to their country through films. It’s slightly more difficult to reach another kind of filmgoers here in Los Angeles, it’s easier in New York, and in Miami it’s interesting to note that a third of the audience is Hispanic, another third is Jewish, and the rest is Israeli. So it depends on where you show the films.

SR: This year for the first time there’s a special program entitled « Second Generation Holocaust Survivors » and showing the documentary « Numbered ». Why didn’t it happen before ? and what drove you to have this tribute now ?
MF
: Actually, “Numbered” premiered at the Chicago Film Festival, and made the front page of the NY Times. I read the article, and was very touched by the story. I am a second generation of Holocaust survivors, and I felt like it was a unique take on the Holocaust as it deals with the third generation. It tells the story of young Jews who choose to get the serial numbers of the Holocaust victims tattooed on their arms to remember them for the rest of their life. It has become a trend in Israel.

SR : What is the purpose of your festival for both the filmmakers and the filmgoers?
MF
: I want the filmmakers to have the opportunity to be seen here in Hollywood by distributors, if they haven’t been picked up yet for an American release. They also get noticed and can end up signing with an agent, a manager and so forth. Uri Gavriel for instance, whom is being honored this year at the festival has an agent in London, and is seeking representation in the US. (Uri Gavriel who’s a major star in Israel, played in 2 American productions : The Kingdom and The Dark Knight rises).

From the audience perspective, the festival shows such distinct films over the course of 2 weeks, that you get to see the face of the Israeli society and how diverse it is. It’s truly an exceptional opportunity for the public to learn about the Israeli culture, and discover the Israeli population in a unique way.

SR: Can you describe the process of putting on a festival like this, especially one that lasts 2 weeks ?
MF 
: I believe that during the first week, the filmgoers are turning into my Public Relations. They tell their friends about the extraordinary films they saw, and that word of mouth is priceless. The second week-end is my « barometer », that’s when I know that the festival picks up.

SR : This year Sherry Lansing, Martin Landau and Uri Gavriel will be honored, how do you choose your honorees?
MF
: The Cinematic Achievement Awards that we give are mostly geared towards Israeli talents. The Career and Lifetime Achievement Awards are geared towards the Hollywood community in order to bring them closer to the Israeli community.

When it comes to Sherry Lansing, I can share a little anecdote – 25 years ago, I was living in NY, and I started the Israel Film Festival there. I
don’t remember if it was the 3rd or the 4th edition, I contacted Sherry Lansing who was a producer at the time.
She was producing “Fatal Attraction” starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close.

I asked her to join our honorary committee or be a co-chair, something like that… she answered that she was going to be in NY and invited me to come meet her. As I arrived at the address she gave me, I realized that there was a film shoot taking place. So I go up to the 6th floor, I see Michael Douglas and start wondering “what’s going on here? What am I doing here?”

And suddenly Sherry Lansing shows up and says “I’m sorry, I’m in the middle of a shoot, what is it exactly that you want?”. My tongue was stuck you know. I didn’t know what to say. So I replied “I just wanted to know if you want to be on the committee, if you want to be a co-chair”; she said “Listen, I’m going to Japan, and whenever I get my name attached, I usually get very involved. So, it’s better to contact me next year, when the film is finished and I’m done promoting it, maybe I will do something”.
I couldn’t believe she brought me to the shoot, while she could have just sent me a note, or something to tell me she was too busy at the time. It was such a special moment for me, that 25 years later, I asked her to be our honoree and she accepted.

This is all very exciting.

http://www.israelfilmfestival.com

Stephanie Ronnet

 

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