Sam Spiegel Film and Television School
Sam Spiegel Film and Television School is a film school in Jerusalem, Israel. Films by its students have won 300 prizes in international film festivals. The school has been the subject of 160 tributes and retrospectives.
The Jerusalem Film and Television School was founded in 1989 by the Israeli Ministry of Education and Culture and the Jerusalem Foundation. In 1996, it was renamed in honor of the Academy Award-winning American Jewish producer Sam Spiegel, following his family’s decision to contribute annually to the school.
Located in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem, the school has a student body of 170. It offers three tracks:
- Full Track – Training students in directing, screenwriting, cinematography, editing and production.
- Screenwriting Track – Training students in writing for film and television
- Entrepreneur-Producer Track – Training students for production in the entire realm of media.
The school is a non-profit public organization. The chairman of its board of directors is Erez Vigodman. According to school records 80% of its graduates currently work in key professions in the film and television industry.
In 1988, a student revolt broke out in the film department of the Beit Zvi School of Art in Ramat Gan, then the sole film school supported by the Ministry of Education and Culture. Charging that Beit Zvi gave preference to the acting track, the film students demanded self-rule. The Education Minister at the time, Yitzhak Navon established a public inquiry that supported the principles of the students’ position. He then decided to create an independent school for film and television, the first of its kind in Israel, to be directed by filmmakers.
After consulting with mayors of different Israeli cities, the mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, and Ruth Cheshin, president of the Jerusalem Foundation, saw a window of opportunity to “bring the ocean to Jerusalem”, in their words. They committed to match government funding. In July 1989, Ruth Cheshin asked film director Renen Schorr to draw up plans for the school, which opened in Jerusalem in November 1989.
At the onset, the academic program was three and a half years long. The school championed providing a broad professional foundation in all aspects of the film industry: writing, directing fiction, directing documentary, cinematography, production, editing, recording, and more. Emphasis was placed upon providing a theoretical and cultural foundation for its students, with a constant striving for excellence.
Unlike other existing films schools in Israel (like the film department of Tel Aviv University and the Beit Zvi school) the Sam Spiegel School worked to classify the short film as a genre, identifying itself as a “story-telling school” and placed central importance on the hero in the story and the narrative. Similarly, the school stressed the focus of a director’s work, paraphrasing the words of Hitchcock: “The job of a director is not just to work with the screenwriter, the actors, the cameraman, the editor and the composer, but to direct the audience.” The school was bound to transform the work of a director into an act of sensitivity, directed at reaching and stirring the viewer.
In 1992/3, the school went public for the first time, participating in the Jerusalem Film Festival and a series of Graduate Film Showings in various cinemateques, presenting thirty of its films – first films and final projects of the first graduating class.
The public, the Israeli film community and the media were surprised by the uncommon style of the school’s films, and praised the school and its films (in the Israel Film Institute Competition for Short Films, the school’s films took 12 out of 13 awards). The one film that stood out among the first collection of movies was “Party Line”, directed by Ohav Flantz, whose new campy style aroused a good deal of attention. The film became synonymous with the school in its early days.
The school succeeded in showing the work of its graduates on Channel 2, which began broadcasting in late 1992, and built a strategic partnership with one of its franchises, Tel Ad. Every year, from 1993 until its license period ended in 2005, Tel Ad broadcast nationally all of the graduate films in a specially designed series, "Shorts at Midnight". Graduates of the school’s first two classes were quickly absorbed into the television industry, thanks to the creation of Channel 2, among other factors, and the simultaneous development of cable network broadcasting.
In July 1993, the school showed its films at the Jerusalem International Film Festival. The panel of judges, including director of the London Film Festival Sheila Whitaker, director Dusan Makavejev, critic David Robinson, actor Haim Topol, and British producer Mark Shivas, were effusive in praise, stating that all of the school’s entries in the competition were universal in their language and boasted excellent international potential.
In November, 1996, a milestone was reached when the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented the school’s first major retrospective. At the opening night ceremony, which was attended by Teddy Kollek, the Spiegel family, graduates of the school, an array of film producers and members of the New York film industry, the school’s name was officially changed from the Jerusalem Film and Television School to the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, Jerusalem.
Speaking at the event, MOMA Chief Curator Larry Kardish said of the school’s films, “Although each is substantially different from the other, they all seem to share some significant and impressive characteristics. Whether fiction or documentary, narrative or experimental, they are all fresh, quirky, surprising and pithy. That they were well-made is to be expected, but that they also appeared to be effortlessly realized, naturally based in social realities, and psychologically sophisticated is out of the ordinary... The Sam Spiegel School is sending Israeli cinema in a new and exciting direction; its spirit is crossing borders, and its films are a most welcome presence invigorating the international scene. ”
In the middle of the 1990s, after its first students met the challenge of becoming absorbed into the industry, the school identified the need for intensifying the professional skills of its many students who wished to work as directors. As a result, the period of curriculum study was extended from three and a half years to four and a half, a time- frame enabling students to glean further experience. The test of student acceptance into the Israeli industry led to the realization that there were a relatively limited number of screenwriters who weren’t directors, as well as a very small number of entrepreneur producers in the fields of film and television.
In 1999, the school began a two-year track for screenwriters, with the aim of creating a model for cooperation between screenwriters and directors, and with a specialization in writing for television. The Screenwriting Track is supported by the Sam Spiegel Foundation and the Beracha Foundation.
In 2004, the school inaugurated a three-and-a-half year track for entrepreneur producers. The first of its kind in Israel, the program was created to prepare producers to initiate and lead projects in different media, work in cooperation with screenwriters and directors, and navigate the project through the stage of marketing and distribution in Israel and overseas. The Entrepreneur Producer Track is supported by the Rayne Foundation, the Beracha Foundation and the Sam Spiegel Foundation.
Each of the three tracks operates autonomously. The school aims for its students to reach a synergy of the tracks, leading to future cooperation beyond the school framework, based on it guiding principles and spirit.
On December 2008 the school launched a new school wing consisting of two cinema halls. The main hall seats 80 audiences and the smaller hall seats 40. Both have an advanced high definition screening and sound systems. This new wing was built with the support of The Sam Spiegel Foundation (U.S.A.), the Ostrovsky Family Fund (France) and Beracha Foundation (Israel).
The Sam Spiegel School has helped to regenerate the genre of short films in Israel and redefine the cinematic concept of “time.” Viewing the students as future cultural leaders, the school offers intensive classroom study, lecturers who are well known in the Israeli film industry, master classes by guest artists from Israel and abroad; budgets for student films; state-of-the-art video and film equipment; the opportunity to attend international film festivals and workshops and monetary stipends.
Excerpts from an article by British critic David Robinson in July, 2005:
- “There is something different about the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School... Consistently, since its first graduation show in 1992, every year the school has come up with four or five or six films that range from watchable (a merit not to be underestimated in 21st century cinema) to inspired. A more exceptional phenomenon is how many of Jerusalem’s short subjects one still vividly remembers after a decade or more, when many a Hollywood blockbuster has faded into the mists of memory: the post-modernist social irony of Party Line, the comic horror of In Good Hands, the eruption of politics into private life in Home or Cock Fight, parents and children in Personal Goals or Sea Horses. Many Jerusalem films one does not watch as student exercises, but for authentic communication, for insight as well as entertainment...”
The school's films have been screened at international film festivals and student film festivals around the world. Each year, film schools around the world participating in student international festivals are requested to submit current films for judging. The judges select the outstanding school of the year based upon the quality of its films.
In 2008, "Anthem", the Diploma Film of 14th Graduating Class Member Elad Keidan, scooped First Prize in the Student Film competition within the prestigious "Cinefondation" section of the Cannes Film Festival. This award of First Prize is the first ever such win by an Israeli student film in Cannes.
The school has been the subject of some 120 tributes and retrospectives at international festivals, including key events such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1996), the Rotterdam Festival (1997), the Havana Festival (1999), the Moscow Festival (1999), the Valladolid Film Festival (Spain, 2000), the Melbourne Festival (2004), FIPA Festival - Biarritz (France, 2004) the Berlin International Film Festival (2004), the Hamptons Festival (2005) and the Clermont-Ferrand Festival in France (2005), which is considered to be the “Olympics” of the short film and Sarajevo Film Festival (2008).
In 2000, Renen Schorr, founder and director of the school, was chosen by 70 of his peers – directors of film schools in Europe – as the president of GEECT, the European association of film schools. In addition, he has initiated international conferences in different educational aspects of the short film in Berlin, Helsinki, Paris and Bratislava. One of Schorr’s main goals was to initiate conferences devoted to introducing, defining and characterizing European cinema in comparison with American film making, as well as the significant role of the creative entrepreneur producer.
In 2005, the school celebrated its 15 anniversary with a tribute at the Jerusalem Film Festival, a commemorative booklet published by the Tel Aviv Cinemateque, the naming of the school’s street the “Sam Spiegel Alley”, and a gala evening at the Jerusalem Festival for the school’s graduates from past years, current students instructors, key persons in the industry, and such distinguished guests as then-Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, former Israeli president Yitchak Navon and cabinet ministers.
The school also released a DVD series of its ten best films, selected by 60 leading film personalities from 17 countries. The judges included:Pedro Almodóvar, Paul Newman, Gus Van Sant, Luc Besson, Nikita Mikhalkov, Jeanne Moreau, Peter Weir, Andrzej Wajda, István Szabó, Atom Egoyan, Paul Auster, Theo Angelopoulos, Kirk Douglas, Anthony Minghella, Todd Haynes, Willem Dafoe, Samira Makhmalbaf, Patrice Leconte, Gillo Pontecorvo, Lawrence Kasdan, Steve Buscemi, Dusan Makavejev, Saul Zaentz, Walter Murch, Walter Parkes, Edward Zwick, and others.
Nir Bergman’s film Sea Horses won the award for the school’s outstanding film of all time.
- The Sam Spiegel School Film and Television Homepage
- The Sam Spiegel School Film and Television Youtube Channel