Oscar-winning Producer Steve Tisch Chairs World's Largest Student Film Festival
Steve Tisch, the Academy Award-winning producer and executive Vice President and Chairman of the New York Giants, chaired the 16th Tel Aviv Student Film Festival last week. Held at Tel Aviv University, it is the largest student film festival in the world, and widely acknowledged as the most influential. This year, 250 short films from 40 countries were screened.
Speaking at the festival's opening ceremony in the picturesque Summit Garden site overlooking the Mediterranean and the city of Tel Aviv on May 31, 2014, Tisch said, "To the students who are graduating, I am going to ask you to do one thing," he said. "When you go into the movie business, please take out of your vocabulary the word 'fair.' Make the movies that you want to make from your heart, the movies you believe in, with the passion you have had — if you are like me — since you were 12 years old."
Mr. Tisch embodies the spirit of the festival — dynamic, progressive, and creatively adventurous," said TAU film students Talia Bernstein and Roni Shamiss, who, as student chairs, organized an army of volunteers.
The festival generated broad international interest, featuring industry icons like Tisch and the French filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, whose latest movie Two Days, One Night opened the event on May 31st. Established in 1986 by students from TAU's celebrated Department of Film and Television and previously held every two years, the festival will now be an annual event thanks to new funding from the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, the Israel Film Council, and Tel Aviv University.
Hollywood expertise, universal passion
As the first Chairman of the festival, Tisch brought Hollywood know-how, glamour, and a significant track record to his role. Three decades ago he helped launch Tom Cruise's career with the sleeper hit Risky Business, and his credits include American History X, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Weather Man, Seven Pounds, Knowing, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Back-Up Plan, Hope Springs, and the Academy Award winning Best Film, Forrest Gump.
In a special Q&A session with legendary Israeli filmmaker Katriel Schori, held at TAU's Department of Film & Television, Tisch discussed the types of films he particularly loves making, his coming of age as a producer, and the differences among the American, Israeli, and European film industries. The student audience, filling the lecture hall to capacity, gave him a roaring round of applause at the end of the session. "I spent five years at Columbia Pictures, which was my graduate school," he said. "By working at the studio I was able not only to meet writers, filmmakers, directors, editors, cinematographers, but — on the other end — to also meet pretty serious agents and lawyers, gaining exposure to both the creative and business sides. After five years, I felt ready to go out on my own and start producing."
Tisch has three films scheduled for release this year: Sex Tape, directed by Jake Kasdan and starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, opens in July, 2014; The Equalizer, directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington, opens in September, 2014; and The Business Trip, directed by Ken Scott and starring Vince Vaughn, opens in March, 2015. Currently a partner at Escape Artists Productions and the Chairman and Executive Vice President of the New York Giants, Tisch is the only person to have won both an Academy Award and a Super Bowl ring — actually two rings: Super Bowls XLII and XLVI.
This year, the festival's student films explored subjects including adolescence, death, loneliness, faith, identity, and equality. 25 of the films were made by students at Israel's film schools, providing an encouraging insight into the future of Israeli filmmaking. Israeli director Eytan Fox (Yossi and Jagger and Walk on Water) served as head judge, joined by Kim Yutani, programmer for the Sundance Film Festival, Israeli producer Gal Greenspan, and Afghan French director Barmak Akram (Wajma — An Afghan Love Story).
Special guests included French director Leos Carax. Over his three-and-a-half-decade career, Carax has only directed five feature-length films, but they were more than enough to cement his place among the most noteworthy active directors in France. His films Lovers on Bridge (1991) and Holy Motors (2012) were screened during the festival, and Carax also ran a directing worship, open to the public.
An editing workshop featured Molly Malene Stensgaard — known for editing many of Lars von Trier's films including his latest, Nymphomaniac — in which she discussed her work with the celebrated and controversial director.
Other notable guests included South Korean director and screenwriter Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil), Romanian director Radu Muntean (Boogie and the recent Tuesday After Christmas) and Chilean director and screenwriter Sebastian Silva (Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus).
Members of the festival's judging panels and its special guests regularly include luminaries of world cinema. Past judges and speakers include actors Richard Gere, Marcello Mastroianni, Erland Josephson, and Sarah Polley; directors Robert Wise, Jim Sheridan, Chantal Akerman, Paul Schrader, Giuseppe Tornatore, Theo Angelopoulos, Emir Kusturica, Hicham Ayouch, Paolo Sorrentino, and Ari Folman; and producers Arnon Milchan, Roger Corman, Jan Harlan, Ori Inbar, and Nick Frazer.
A far-ranging program
The festival, widely acknowledged as the most important student film festival in the world, comprised three categories this year: the International Forum, showcasing cinema from around the world; the Israeli Competition, presenting the works of Israel's next generation of filmmakers; and the Mediterranean Competition, screening films from neighboring countries. The winners of the competitions were announced at the weeklong event's official closing ceremony on Saturday night, June 7th. Best International Film went to director Deben Van Dam for The Way of All Flesh (Belgium); Best Israeli Film was awarded to director Oren Gerner; Best Mediterranean Film went to director Bulent Ozturk for Houses with Small Windows (Turkey); and the Festival Critics Award for Israeli film went to director, screenwriter, and editor Roni Rainhartz of Sapir Academic College.
Past festival winners include young filmmakers already making names in the industry: Thomas Vinterberg, Dover Kosashvili, Francois Ozon, Alan Taylor, Jasper W. Nielsen, and Nir Bergman. The festival also featured the first screening of a short series of documentaries by Tel Aviv University students called Digital Relations, exploring interpersonal relations in the digital age through the camera lens. Another new project, Short Film Incubator, screened films by directors currently waiting to produce their first or second feature-length film.
The festival's unique Film Bus, a travelling theater that brings the short films to all parts of the country, particularly the periphery, made its third nationwide circuit this year. Israelis and students from all over the world embarked on a week-long tour in a bus fitted with a giant screen, projector, and amplification system. After the screenings, audiences across Israel were treated to Q&As with the filmmakers.
A philanthropic philosophy
The festival's chairman, Steve Tisch, has long been a leading philanthropist, and generously contributes his time and resources to a variety of organizations. On May 29, 2014, President Barack Obama announced his gift of $10 million to the department of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA for the BrainSPORT Program, which has now been renamed the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program. It establishes the world's most advanced diagnostic and treatment program for athletes who have suffered concussions and uses the latest techniques in brain imaging, molecular biology, and neuro-engineering to understand the connection between concussions and long-term brain disease.
Other recipients of his generosity include the Epilepsy Foundation, Women's Cancer Research Foundation, and The Simon Wiesenthal Center. Tisch is on the Board of Trustees of The Geffen Theatre in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Cancer Center at Duke University. He is the naming benefactor of the new sports and fitness center at his alma mater, Tufts University.
As originally reported by AFTAU.