August 30, 2011 in Business

Holy city competes to lure filmmakers

Daniel Estrin Associated Press
Associated Press photo

French actress Juliette Binoche acts on the set of the film “Disengagement” in Nitzan, southern Israel, on March 29, 2007. Israel wants to bring international movie producers to the holy city of Jerusalem.
(Full-size photo)

Standing in for Jerusalem

“World War Z,” the forthcoming multimillion-dollar zombie flick starring Brad Pitt, takes place partially in Jerusalem, but producers replicated the city on the island of Malta, which offers hefty cash rebates for foreign film productions.

Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was shot in Italy. In Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,” about Mossad assassinations of Palestinians who killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics, a Tel Aviv beach promenade scene was filmed in Malta.

Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” filmed scenes of Jerusalem in Tunisia, using part of the recreated Jerusalem set built for the Italian miniseries “Jesus of Nazareth.”

But sometimes Israel stands in for other locations. The 1991 thriller “Not Without My Daughter” starred Sally Fields as an American trapped in Iran, but it was filmed partially in Israel, as was the opening scene of the 1999 film “The Insider,” starring Al Pacino.

JERUSALEM – Israel is tired of Hollywood filming Jesus’ crucifixion in Italy and the Crusader invasion of the Holy Land in Morocco.

So Israeli officials are promising better tax breaks, terror attack insurance and handouts of up to $400,000 to lure international movie producers to the holy city of Jerusalem. They want to cash in on the multibillion-dollar industry, and want the real Jerusalem on the silver screen – not Mediterranean stand-ins.

“It’s absurd. Movies set in Jerusalem are filmed in Malta, Morocco and Greece,” said Yoram Honig, an Israeli film director and 10th-generation Jerusalemite. He heads the Jerusalem Film Fund, which was set up three years ago to encourage more moviemaking in the city.

According to conventional wisdom in Hollywood, Jerusalem is too volatile to ensure smooth filming on location. International insurance companies have traditionally refused to provide terrorism risk coverage, or offered it at exorbitant prices.

For a long time, it didn’t make financial sense for the producers. While Israel in the 1980s attracted such star-studded productions as Sylvester Stallone’s “Rambo 3” and Chuck Norris’ “The Delta Force,” it later lost out to other countries that started giving big tax incentives to producers.

“If they think it’s expensive and dangerous, they won’t want to come,” Honig said.

That’s why the Israeli government enacted a law in 2008 offering tax breaks to foreign film companies that choose to shoot in Israel. And earlier this year Israel introduced an insurance fund to provide coverage to a production in case of disruptions by acts of war or terrorism, said Zafrir Asas, manager of audio visual industries in Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor.

But the 2008 law has had little effect. Asas admits the tax incentives are far lower than what other countries provide.

Now the city is sweetening the pot for international filmmakers, offering cash incentives and a municipal department that will assist with filming permits and on-location logistics.

Part of the push to get Jerusalem into movie theaters is to present a more positive image of the city than the conflict seen in the news – “the Jerusalem that more than 3.5 billion people of faith around the world wish to see,” said Stephan Miller, spokesman for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

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