The Israeli school producing the world’s best TV shows

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The Israeli school producing the world’s best TV shows

Marking its 50th anniversary, TAU's Steve Tisch School of Film and Television toasts its graduates who have shaped entertainment

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Star of The Affair Ruth Wilson greets the series creator and director Hagai Levi (credit:David Parry)
Star of The Affair Ruth Wilson greets the series creator and director Hagai Levi (credit:David Parry)

When a big anniversary looms, celebrants are inclined to make plans.        An event filled with supportive friends in a location befitting the occasion is typically the way to go, and all of this was ringed by the Trust of Tel Aviv University’s (TAU) for the 50th anniversary of the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television.

When the Pandemic struck and commemorating anything was confined to zoom, the Trust could not have imagined that by June 2022, there would be canapes and drink flowing at a BAFTA reception ahead of a film screening directed by one of the school’s most celebrated alumni. With a turnout to rival attendance of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition launch across the road, Trust supporters were in their finery to toast the school along with Israeli Ambassador, Tzipi Hotovely, who was there not just officially, but as a fan.

Star of the night Hagai Levi with leading lady Ruth Wilson, Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely and TAU chair David Meller (credit David Parry)

TAU’s Steve Tisch School of Film and Television has a lot of fans as it is the only Israeli institution listed in the ranking that includes such global entertainment educators as the London Film School, University of Television and Film Munich, and the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. More than 1,200 entertainment industry insiders, educators, filmmakers and film pundits were among the anonymous experts polled for the ranking and they didn’t need their arms twisting when it came to recognising the output by the school’s graduates.

Tehran creators Omri Shenhar and Moshe Zonder

Just check out the alumni which  includes Omri Shenhar, Moshe Zonder and Alon Aranya who co-created the hit series Tehran, which won an Emmy Award for Best Drama. Zonder together with TAU graduates Avi Issacharoff and Michal Aviram also helmed the global testosterone triumph Fauda, but by then Ari Folman had set out his stall with an Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win for Waltz With Bashir and a European Film Award for Best Animated Feature,The Congress.

The Congress and its director Ari Folman

Where to stack the column inches of praise is the biggest issue for TAU’s former students, such as Maya Zinstein (Forever Pure) Gideon Raff (Homeland, Prisoners of War and The Spy) and Dror Moreh who won an Academy Award for documentary The Gatekeepers.
But however nice the plaudits are (and they really are); Tisch which takes its name from its most generous donor, US film producer Steve Tisch,  has taught, fine-tuned and fostered the home-grown talent who have been instrumental in the evolution of Israeli cinema and TV. That these productions have since arrived on the world stage was the intention, but not the expectation.

Tisch School director Prof Yaron Bloch

It is this absence of presumption that makes Israeli filmmakers and artists so appealingly low key or as Shtisel’s Dov Glickman says: “Willing to take the bus.” Seemingly indifferent at times, instead of pushing to the front, they loiter on the periphery, typically smoking where it’s permitted.

Take Prof. Yaron Bloch, the head of the Tisch school. Standing beside a TAU banner, he observed the throng and  when asked was quietly proud about Tisch’s achievements. Yet Bloch is a producer in his own right and hosts visits from big hitters in show business who hold master classes on campus. The Coen Brothers, Roger Corman, Richard Gere, Live Schreiber and Atom Egoyan and have all been to the school and when Covid stopped visits, there were webinars with Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, and Martin Scorsese.

As star of the night, everyone wanted to meet Tisch alumnus Hagai Levi, a diminutive figure with colossal talent.  As creator, writer and director of  the Israeli series BeTipul, he later saw it remade in nineteen countries, including the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning HBO series In Treatment.

Hagai is also responsible for the HBO miniseries Our Boys, which focuses on the story of the kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir and  won fourteen Israeli Oscars and the Showtime drama series The Affair (unmissable for anyone immersed in the fate of writer Noah (Dominic West) and waitress Alison (Ruth Wilson).

Hagai’s The Affair which ran to five seasons despite his departure.

Most recently Hagai adapted Ingmar Bergman Scenes from a Marriage for HBO with Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain.
“That’s a very intense watch,” said comedy producer Dan Patterson who hosted the evening’s Q&A after cram watching Hagai’s stable. “I have to admit I’d not seen anything you have done, but I’ve made up for that, though I’ve not reached the end of The Affair.”


Producer Dan Patterson had to cram watch Hagai Levi’s shows for the Q&A (credit:David Parry)

The Affair was over for Hagai when he left after the first season. “I don’t like multi seasonal series because they are done for commercial reasons, not for a real reason,” he said with refreshing honesty considering Ruth Wilson who was in four of The Affair’s five seasons was sat in the audience as Hagai’s guest. Not one to shy away from candour, it is Hagai Levi’s talent for bringing realism to screen relationships that has made him such a popular hire and he attributes his ear for authentic dialogue to being in Yeshiva. “Fifteen hours a day, and most of the time you are paired with someone. It’s a dialogue between two people, interpreting a specific text. This is your whole life. Two people trying to get to the bottom of something.”

Hagai’s graduation film now available as a director’s cut

Hagai Levi never truly got to the bottom of his Tisch graduation film, Snow in August,  so his decision to make a director’s cut and premiere it at the school’s 50th soiree was bold. “It’s naïve, but very autobiographical about my religious background, specifically my Italian-Jewish background. It’s a true reflection of my life back then,” said Hagai who is an award-winning reflection of Tisch’s teaching. Prepare to meet the others.

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