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Theatre and Film in Israel

Actor Mohammad Bakri
Actor Mohammad Bakri

The first Hebrew theatre was established in Moscow in 1917 under the name Habima (The Stage). In 1931 the home of this national theatre became Tel Aviv. Israeli theatre has many genres. As the playwrights, directors and actors have come from different places in the world, their experiences are combined on stage. Performances range from large-scale musicals, classical plays, comedy and ‘social commentary’ plays in which contemporary social issues are raised.

Other theatres in Israel are the Cameri Theatre and Beit Lessin in Tel Aviv, the Haifa Municipal Theatre and the Be’er Sheva Theatre. In Haifa the Arab Theatre produces Arab language plays. Well known playwrights in the tradition of Israeli theatre are Hanoch Levine, Nisim Aloni and Joshua Sobol.

The Acco Festival of Alternative Israeli Theatre is organized annually in Acre, in the north of the country. During this festival, experimental plays are shown. One of the goals is to promote co-operation between Jewish and Arabic theatre.

Palestinian-Israeli actor Mohammad Bakri, who is widely known and who has played in Habima many times, lost popularity after making the documentary film Jenin Jenin about the events during the military operation Defensive Shield in 2002 during the Second Intifada in the West Bank. The actor/director was accused of fabricating facts about the Israeli conduct during the operation and was labelled a traitor.

Israelis are fervent movie-goers and all across the country there are hundreds of cinemas, most of which show box office films from the United States, Europe and Israel. In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv there are also independent cinemas, the ‘Cinematèques’, which tend to screen low budget and international films that sometimes are slightly more critical of aspects of Israeli society.

In 2009, the Israeli film world was in the spotlight when Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir earned an Oscar nomination. This animated film presents the memories of an Israeli soldier who served in Lebanon in the 1980s. The theme of military activities and war is a popular one within Israel as it is a shared experience amongst many Israelis.

In the documentary field, Israeli filmmakers are also successful, especially in films featuring political and military themes, such as Five Days and Checkpoints by Yoav Shamir, the above-mentioned Jenin Jenin by Mohammad Bakri, and several films by Avi Moghrabi. Jerusalem as well as Tel Aviv have a annual documentary festival: the Jerusalem International Film Festival and DocAviv.

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