Film production has tentatively resumed in Israel starting with Yohanan Weller’s feature comedy My Private Telenovela (working title) as select cinemas begin to open their doors following the deadly Hamas attack on October 7 and escalating war in the region.
The film is the first feature to begin production again in the country, delayed from an initial start date of October 8.
My Private Telenovela is produced by Moshe and Leon Edery’s United King Films and will be released by the company’s distribution arm in Israel. The Spanish and Hebrew-language film stars renowned Argentinian-Israeli singer Pablo Rosenberg in a story about an Argentinian family who surprise relatives in Israel with a visit and comedy, chaos and culture clashes ensue. It marks Weller’s follow-up to 2019 widower romance Love in Suspenders and 2011´s romantic comedy Salsa Tel Aviv.
The producers are maneuvering around protocols in place from the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Home Front Command that prohibit more than 50 people from gathering indoors, no more than 30 in outdoor locations and production cast and crew must be within one minute of a bomb shelter in case of alert.
The film is shooting inside a private home in Ramat Hasharon outside of Tel Aviv with a cast and crew of under 50 people and within the designated radius from a secure location in the event of emergency sirens.
The 25-day shoot also had plans to extend to the Ben Gurion international airport, the main hub for flights into and out of Israel, and scenes at a hotel and a beach, but filming in those locations remains unconfirmed to date. Shooting will be centrered in the Tel Aviv area with one day scheduled for Jerusalem. “We’re trying to rent a bomb shelter that can move from one place to another,” the film’s lead producer Ofer Naim told Screen.
Despite the logistical complications, Naim said: “The crew came to us and said they wanted to work, both for financial reasons and to forget everything happening and get back to their lives.”
United King will release the film in Israel and no international sales agent is attached to date.
Cinemas reopen as uncertainty looms
Following a complete shutdown of cinemas across the country since October 7, United King-owned multiplex chain Cinema City has reopened select locations in Netanya, Hadera and Jerusalem. The locations will offer screenings of a handful of titles such as Israel’s entry for best international feature Oscar Ayelet Menahemi’s Seven Blessings, Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie and Avi Nesher’s The Monkey House. The cinemas are all open between 14.00-22.00.
“We are not releasing any new films at the moment,” confirmed Avital Rosen, acquisitions and distribution manager of United King.
Craig Gillespie’s Dumb Money was scheduled to be released this week in the territory and Israeli film Running On Sand next week, but both have been delayed. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour movie is also on hold despite a raft of pre-sales for its Oct. 13 planned release.
Dani Rosenberg’s timely Gaza strip conflict drama The Vanishing Soldier and Eliran Peled’s musical Victory are among other local titles whose releases are paused along with international titles In The Land of Saints And Sinners, The Palace, Silent Night, The Miracle Club and The Estate.
According to United King, 50% of ticket sales since July have been for Israeli films. so the repercussions on the local industry are already being felt due to the combination of cinema closures, reopenings with limited capacity and a nation on high alert. For example, Menahemi’s Seven Blessings was released in September and sold 250,000 tickets in its first month in cinemas.
The company is holding off on any marketing and publicity for the time being and their corporate offices are closed.
However, United King CEO and Cinema City founder and owner Moshe Edery told Screen: “I am optimistic and believe that we will soon be producing and releasing films as we always have. We need to move slowly because it will take the Israeli audience a while to recover from this great tragedy, but we are resilient people and we prevail.”
Other cinemas have also begun to open their doors including Planet Cinemas in Haifa and Zikhron Yaakov that are operating limited hours from 11.00-21.00 The group posted statements on its website and social media pages telling customers. “Out of a desire to maintain national and mental resilience and in accordance with the direction of Home Command” they would be opening the locations “for those who choose to relieve tension with a film” adding that “cinemas are protected spaces”.