CoPro, the Israeli Content Marketing Foundation, and the first and only non-profit organization in Israel dedicated exclusively to marketing Israeli content have launched a premium platform for film professionals. Drawing from over 20 years of actively creating a turning point in the Israeli film industry, DocuShuk provides buyers and programmers with the tools to stay updated on the best Israeli projects and offer direct digital marketing opportunities for Israeli industry members. With it, the vibrant Israeli documentary industry and its latest films have moved firmly into the digital sphere, maintaining the renown and core values of the physical CoPro market – promote, market, and creates collaborations for Israeli documentary and animation films across the global market.
Modern Times Review spoke with CoPro and DocuShuk’s Executive Director Pnina-Halfon Lang on the platforms’ capabilities, goals, and the current state of the Israeli documentary film industry post-COVID. Pnina-Halfon Lang’s 15+ years of film industry experience has brought her everywhere, from the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival to distribution roles with Heymann Brothers Films, Orlando Films, and more. Now serving as Executive Director of CoPro, DocuShuk was a project initiated by Halfon Lang to continue her personal goals of promoting the Israeli film industry to the world.
I don’t think there was a very high volume of support or grants given to the industry at the beginning of the pandemic or during the first lockdowns.
Can you give us a general idea of where the industry in Israel is right now? What sort of support did you see the documentary and nonfiction industry getting from the government during the height of COVID? Were there resources being offered to you?
I don’t think there was a very high volume of support or grants given to the industry at the beginning of the pandemic or during the first lockdowns. There was some criticism of the way the government treated independent artists in general during this time, and the delays and uncertainty since, regarding payments to film funds and cultural organizations. In Israel, most of the funding for the documentary industry comes either from governmental film funds, or local broadcasters. A few things happened to cause these delays, which actually had nothing to do with the pandemic. Primarily, due to the political situation in Israel at that time, no state budget was approved. This meant that there were some delays and uncertainties about what the funds would get, and what they would hence have to disburse. I think that, by the end of the year, everybody got their complete budget. Fiction projects did get some emergency grants to cover extra costs caused by COVID.
The other problem was that the broadcasters were losing subscribers, so the budget started to shrink even more. Again, I don’t think this was solely due to COVID, but more to do with other issues, like big streaming services controlling the market and people registering less for other services as a result. To give one example, yesDocu, one of the biggest, most important Israeli channels supporting original documentaries, had to reduce their budget significantly in the past year. That means fewer productions are being supported than before and the industry is definitely hurting.
The other aspect of what we do, international co-productions, was also hurt because of COVID. The world went into slowdown and decision-makers weren’t in a hurry to invest, which made for a challenging year and a half.
Having said all that, Israeli filmmakers are always very creative and innovative, and during COVID they managed to re-invent themselves and prospered in the digital arena. Many online and community screenings, as well as other new initiatives, were produced during this period and I was very happy and proud to see that.
Over the last year and a half or two years, did you notice any shift or difference in the themes and stories being told?
I’m not sure there was a significant shift. Of course, our completed films were made a couple of years ago, and in the next two years, there will be all kinds of films or television series dealing with the pandemic and its consequences, as we expect to see in the rest of the world. Israel is a very interesting and hectic place, therefore there’s a lot of dramatic stories to tell. This is what makes the industry so fruitful. I don’t think there was a big shift in the stories that were being told. There are a lot of big crises and dramatic stories here, beyond COVID, and filmmakers are documenting those.
I believe there are a lot of big crises here, and people are documenting those.
What is the importance of co-production for Israeli documentaries?
There are two main reasons why co-productions are important. One is financial. It’s important for many filmmakers, not only Israelis, to raise funds from other territories in order to secure their budgets. Israel, like other small territories, is very limited in terms of available resources and depends on foreign funds in order to complete creative projects.
The second reason is cultural – to cooperate with different cultures and be able to reach different audiences. This is what we, as filmmakers, want to do, to have as large an audience as possible. Being involved in co-productions widens the options for films in terms of distribution as well.
In your experience, do you find that festivals are more open to co-productions than solely Israeli ones?
It depends on the film. The fact that there are co-productions and more producers or broadcasters involved, makes the profile of a film higher. Filmmakers need to come to co-productions with funds from Israel secured since decision-makers like to see that there is local support behind projects. If there is a group of broadcasters joining the project, it means that there are many decision-makers who feel that it is an important film to make. Of course, regarding film festivals’ selection of Israeli projects, there are always past relationships with different filmmakers and political issues which can influence the attitude around different films. Still, if you have a few broadcasters and funds who stand behind the project, it makes its profile higher, and in many cases, this increases its potential of being presented in festivals.
What would you say is the biggest current barrier to Israeli documentary filmmakers in terms of international exposure?
Probably the language barrier, which is a big thing. Also, I don’t want to get too much into politics, but many cultural or political gaps exist, and might not change for the better.
I also think there are many documentaries made around the world and the competition is very strong. Moreover, there are a lot of Israeli filmmakers and the market is very competitive. We are getting more and more applications for our co-production market and it’s very hard to choose. We will usually go for the ones who we and our selection committee believe have the highest international potential.
One more barrier for Israelis, as well as many other independent filmmakers, is that production values are getting higher all the time. When you see a Netflix production, it’s a very high standard, which is tough to compete with as an independent filmmaker.
What role does the new DocuShuk platform have in relation to the wider CoPro Market?
For many years, DocuShuk was an offline track at the CoPro market devoted to completed films. In 2017, when I was the executive producer of the market, I figured out that it doesn’t make sense anymore to have it all offline. There are a lot of films being made in Israel every year. Having them only in a printed catalogue and at a four-day event was a waste. We developed and designed this platform to be a catalogue and streaming platform for completed Israeli films. It’s a B2B platform that primarily serves decision-makers. Broadcasters, festival programmers, or other cultural institutes can come online, watch the screeners, and contact the rights holders directly. We are mostly the middlemen. As an NGO, we don’t have any direct part in the deal.
The platform also allows access to the Israeli projects in development which were presented at the market. Right now, the platform allows different levels of access. You can be a DocuShuk buyer, which allows you to screen only the completed films, or a decision-maker with full access to explore the in-development projects selected for the market, and the ability to reach out and request meetings. There are a lot of tools for users, and we gave it a lot of thought, both from the filmmakers’ and the buyers’ sides.
We choose the ones who we believe have more international potential.
Did the platform evolve at all from its original concept?
It’s evolving all the time. It’s like a startup. It’s a digital product, and you constantly refine your understanding of what’s good about what you did and what’s not as good as you might have wanted it to be. Then you can change it and develop more. We have a lot of tools that we added or are planning to develop for the platform as we go along.
Can you talk a little bit about the curatorial approach of the films that appear on DocuShuk?
In terms of the completed films, we don’t have a selection committee. We are, of course, looking for high-profile, festivals selected films, but we give a chance to anyone who wants to register and expose their film to the world. If someone wants to join and upload their completed film, they can do so for a small annual fee.
Most of the films on DocuShuk were presented at Israeli film festivals, which is a stamp of quality, but there are also other films that can connect to different audiences.
What about from a buyer’s perspective? What kind of activity have you seen on the platform so far? Has the platform served as a place for film discovery?
Buyers, like commissioners and television buyers, are super busy, and it is harder to make them explore. If they browse, they will either look at films in-development or search for specific films they are looking for. If the screener is in there, it will be easier and shorten the time it takes them to watch the film and create a direct connection with the rights holders.
In terms of smaller organizations and film festivals, they can explore films by category or year. I wish that the decision-makers, buyers, and commissioners would explore more because I think they would find the things they are looking for. A lot of the newest films are in there, we’re always updating our catalogue. Since we have partnerships with the leading Israeli festivals, it is the only platform that allows you to watch the premieres from Israel, the gateway to the Israeli documentaries industry.
How long does a film remain in the platform’s catalogue?
We offer an annual subscription, which filmmakers can renew. We have films from the last three years in our catalogue. From our point of view, this is the lifetime of a film. We have also thought about creating an archive in the future. We definitely want to expand the platform and are trying to open it up for international collaborations, like the one we are doing with DOK Leipzig in late October. We will host a selection from the festival’s competition on our platform and they’ll have a focus on Israeli documentaries in their library.
DocuShuk is the gateway to the Israeli documentary industry, and we are inviting the industry professional to join us at the platform and the CoPro Market that will take place in the last week of May 2022.
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