Israeli producer picks up kudos from S.F. international film fest

An Israeli television production, "The Secrets of Kineret," received the Golden Spire for best TV miniseries of 1999 at the San Francisco International Film Festival's Golden Gate Awards ceremony Monday.

Israeli television and film producer Micha Shagrir flew in from Casablanca, Morocco, where he is planning a co-production of Mark Twain's "Innocents Abroad," to collect the statuette.

"By all means, it would be easier and cheaper to get it by mail," Shagrir acknowledged in a phone conversation the day of the awards ceremony. "But my father once told me, 'You will never be killed by a good word or gesture.'"

Jokes aside, Shagrir's presence at the ceremony confirmed that the Golden Gate Award is a big deal to Israel's comparatively small production community.

"It is quite important to get this recognition from outsiders," Shagrir, 62, said. "Like all creative people, we want to be loved and appreciated in our small villages and ghettos but, on the other hand, we want to deliver our ideas, dreams, messages to people in other communities."

"The Secrets of Kineret" takes place during a pivotal summer in the life of a 9-year-old Israeli girl named Kineret (also the name of the sea in northern Israel), who stopped speaking after witnessing her father's death in a car accident five years earlier.

When questions about the accident begin to haunt her, Kineret sets out to discover what really happened — and who her father really was.

The Golden Gate Awards jury cited "The Secrets of Kineret" as "an unusual film that stood out from the rest in the miniseries category. It has the elements of intrigue and mystery. The little girl does a wonderful job of acting."

The series enjoyed popular success when it aired on Israeli Channel 2 last year. The ratings climbed from 4 for the first episode to 14 by the end of the sixth half-hour show. A sequel of seven episodes was broadcast earlier this year, to equal acclaim.

"It was successful twice, which is quite rare on a commercial channel," Shagrir explained. "Usually, such delicate and, if I may say, quality productions are the babies of public television."

Newcomer Omri Levy, whose short film "Sand" played numerous Jewish film festivals abroad, directed "The Secrets of Kineret." Levy did something quite rare in television, using little dialogue and therefore building tension and increasing ambiguity.

Shagrir has had a long and varied career. He was a screenwriter for Levi Eshkol, an assistant director on "Cast a Giant Shadow" and the first chairman of the School for Film and Television in Jerusalem.

Shagrir also produced "Avanti Popolo," which screened in the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and received a 1989 Oscar nomination for Best Foreign-Language Film. He currently heads two television and film production companies, Shiba Enterprises and Tapuz Communications.

His next project, "Innocents Abroad," is an ambitious attempt to turn Twain's classic into a docudrama. The "docu" part, said Shagrir, will recreate the images of 150 years ago through still photographs and drawings.

"The drama will be created by a group of actors confronted by the events of the day," he noted. There won't be a lot of parts for Jewish actors, however.

"The only Jews are some of the people they meet in early Jerusalem," Shagrir said.

Michael Fox

Michael Fox is a longtime film journalist and critic, and a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle. He teaches documentary classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute programs at U.C. Berkeley and S.F. State. In 2015, the San Francisco Film Society added Fox to Essential SF, its ongoing compendium of the Bay Area film community's most vital figures and institutions.