TAU NEWS – Arts & Culture

all posts and images are courtesy of Tel Aviv University and/or American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Israeli Student Film Sets Guinness World Record

Lior Geller's Roads noted for most awards won by a short student film

A student film made at the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University has set the Guinness World Record for Most Awards Won by a Short Student Film.

Roads, a twenty-minute gritty crime drama by writer/director Lior Geller, tells the story of a young Arab boy who dreams of escaping his violent drug life and is aided by a traumatized Israeli ex-soldier. The short was nominated for a student Academy Award and played at over 60 festivals in 36 countries, winning 24 awards, including top prizes at the Jerusalem Film Festival, the Beijing Film Festival and from the International Association of Film Schools.

One Israeli review stated, "In Lior Geller's entertaining, fast-paced Roads, it's as if he threw into the Israeli-Palestinian cement mixer Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, GoodFellas, the Brazilian City of God and Fresh." The Jerusalem Film Festival jury said, "Lior Geller's Roads deals with political and social issues in a sophisticated and impressive manner, creating a fascinating cinematic experience full of energy and passion. The film had us glued to our seats."

Geller has said of the film's success, "While experiencing the short film's surprising reception, I witnessed the universality of what I had thought was a very personal story. From attending screenings in Arabic-Israeli neighborhoods to inner-city youth programs in Paris, I was amazed by how the tale of a boy who dreams of a better life outside the disenfranchised world he is born into, crosses all boundaries of culture and language. And how a soldier coming home faces similar obstacles and hardships, no matter where in the world 'home' for him really is, be it an Israeli sergeant returning from Gaza or a US veteran coming home from Afghanistan."

The success of the short brought Geller to Hollywood where he has since sold multiple screenplays, including the true life spy thriller Alone in Damascus for Eric Eisner's Double E Pictures and is currently adapting his short into an American feature film set in Washington DC. Geller is also developing a TV series based on the biblical story of the Maccabees together with Rome co-creator William J. Macdonald.

The short film's feature adaptation entitled We Die Young is inspired by Geller's own experiences as a soldier and is described as a fast‐paced crime drama taking place over the course of 24 hours in the brutal drug slums of DC, where a young Hispanic boy dreams of finding a new life for him and his younger brother. When a traumatized Afghanistan veteran comes into the neighborhood looking for drugs to escape his own reality, an unusual opportunity arises that will change both their lives forever. Geller is now meeting with actors and with potential investors for a summer 2017 shoot.

Roads can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/liorgeller/roads

Photo: Lior Geller holds the Guinness World Record certificate.

The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at TAU Hosts First Annual Influencer Award at Sony Pictures Studios

Homeland executive producer and TAU alum Gideon Raff honored at September 14th reception

Gideon Raff and Steve TischThe Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University gave its first annual Influencer Award at a reception at 6:30 pm on September 14, 2016 at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California. The recipient was writer, director, producer, Emmy Award-winner and TAU alum Gideon Raff, the man famous for bringing Homeland to the United States. The evening’s emcee was award winning, critically acclaimed actor/producer Jason Isaacs.

The reception also celebrated the vision and generosity of film producer and philanthropist Steve Tisch, who made a transformative $10,000,000 gift to the School in 2015.

“The Influencer Award Reception serves as an opportunity to celebrate the power of the film and television industry in general and to acknowledge the impactful work of some of the outstanding individuals in the business,” said Steve Tisch. “Gideon Raff is most deserving of this recognition and I’m proud that he will be the inaugural recipient of the Influencer Award. Ultimately I hope that these awards will inspire film students around the world to tell stories that help break down barriers and increase dialogue and understanding.”

“We’re very excited to celebrate the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at the first-ever Influencer Award Reception. Steve Tisch’s support of Tel Aviv University has allowed us to redefine the way students study film and television,” said Gail Reiss, President and CEO, American Friends of Tel Aviv University. “We’re also very pleased to honor Gideon Raff, a proud Tel Aviv University alum, who has made such significant contributions to the world’s film and television industry. Our goal for the evening was to let people feel for themselves the kind of passion and excitement that Steve Tisch and Gideon Raff felt the first time they walked into a filmmaking class at Tel Aviv University. We all screened some short films by current and former Tel Aviv University students.”

See photos from the event

First Annual Influencer Award Honoree

Gideon Raff is the Executive Producer of Homeland, which was adapted from his highest-rated Israeli TV drama of all time, Prisoners of War, and won the Emmy in 2012 and the Golden Globe for Best Television Series in 2012 and 2013. Raff received a primetime Emmy award for his writing. The show has been nominated for the 2016 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series.

Some of Raff’s other acclaimed credits include creating the TV drama series Tyrant and co creating Dig, an event series on USA starring Jason Isaacs as an FBI agent investigating a murder of a female archeologist in Jerusalem.

“I’m incredibly honored to receive the inaugural Influencer Award,” said Raff. “Tel Aviv University gave me so many opportunities that have led to a career that I could have only dreamed about. And now, thanks in large part to my good friend, Steve Tisch, and his significant contribution to the university, I know many other young Israeli filmmakers are going to get their big break, too.

“Steve and I share a passion for storytelling and I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to do that throughout my career. I was born and raised in Jerusalem and the high stakes of living there fascinate me. The stories can be very moving. Prisoners of War was a small Israeli show intended for a small market. Yet, it found its way into 30 countries in its original form and we’re remaking it in so many markets – Russia, India, South Korea etc.”

Influencer Award Emcee

The evening’s emcee was Jason Isaacs, who has won or been nominated for Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, International Emmy, Critics’ Circle, Critics’ Choice, Blockbuster and Satellite awards. He spent nearly a year working closely with Gideon Raff, starring in the 10-part USA mini-series Dig. Probably best known to an entire generation as the sinister Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, Isaac’s enormous range of movie work encompasses The Patriot, Black Hawk Down, Green Zone, Armageddon, Peter Pan, Friends With Money, Event Horizon, End Of The Affair, Fury, Good and more. His US TV work includes Showtime’s Peabody Award-winning series Brotherhood, BAFTA-nominated series Case Histories on PBS, NBC’s Awake and The West Wing, HBO’s Entourage and, of course, USA’s Dig.

Isaacs will soon appear in the new Netflix series The OA, Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness and Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin an is taking time out from shooting Hotel Mumbai in India to host the 2016 Influencer Award reception.

Influencer Award Co-Chairs

Tel Aviv University also announced an impressive list of co-chairs who hosted the Influencer Awards event. The list includes media industry icons Gail Berman and Bill Masters, Jonathan Littman, Rick Rosen, Chris Silbermann, Ari Folman, Eytan Fox, Brett Ratner, Alon Shtruzman, and our emcee host Jason Isaacs.

The star-studded co-chairs hail from all aspects of the entertainment industry.

Gail Berman is one of the few media executives to hold the top posts at both a major film studio and a broadcast television network. She was named President of Paramount Pictures in March 2005. Before joining Paramount, Ms. Berman served from 2000 to 2005 as President of Entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Company. She took the network to the top of the ratings for the first time in its history, developing gigantic hits such as American Idol, 24, House, Arrested Development, Bones, and Family Guy. Berman is currently CEO of The Jackal Group.

Bill Masters, the husband of Gail Berman, is a well-known comedy writer and producer, whose work includes Caroline in the City, Grace Under Fire, Greetings From Home and Raising Dad.

Jonathan Littman, an Emmy-award winning producer, is an executive at Jerry Bruckheimer Television. Some of his credits include CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and The Amazing Race.

Rick Rosen, founder and head of the Television Department at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, has also made his mark in the television industry. As an agent his clients include Dick Wolf (Law & Order), Linwood Boomer (Malcolm in the Middle) and Gideon Raff.

ICM Partners Founding Partner Chris Silbermann will also be co-chairing the event. Silbermann’s agency has represented hit shows like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Grey’s Anatomy, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Modern Family.

TAU alum Ari Folman is a critically acclaimed, Israeli based film director, screenwriter and film score composer, best known for directing the animated documentary film Waltz With Bashir, as well as directing the live-action/animated film The Congress. He currently plans to direct an animated drama film based on the life of Anne Frank during the Holocaust.

Eytan Fox, also from Israel and also a TAU alum, is a film director known for his groundbreaking film Yossi and Jagger, as well as Walk on Water and The Bubble.

Brett Ratner is a graduate of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. He started his career as a music video director working with Russell Simmons, Mariah Carey, Jay-Z and Madonna. He is currently at the top of his field as a major motion picture director and producer with credits including the Rush Hour film series, The Family Man, Red Dragon, X-Men: The Last Stand and Tower Heist.

Alon Shtruzman is a media executive and television producer. He is CEO of Keshet International, Keshet Media Group’s global distribution and production arm. As one of the founders of the Israeli multi-channel industry, Shtruzman commissioned the original In Treatment and introduced the country’s first video-on-demand service.

The Tel Aviv University School of Film and Television

The renowned Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University is Israel’s leading institution of film and television studies, ranked by The Hollywood Reporter among the Top 15 International Film Schools for the third year in a row.

The School has won top titles at film festivals around the world including The Montreal Film Festival, Shanghai International Film Festival, Palm Springs Short Film Festival, Rome Independent Film Festival, American Documentary Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival. An enrolled TAU film student has been nominated for a 2016 Student Academy award.

TAU has educated generations of filmmakers and scholars who are heavyweights of the industry, including Oscar®-nominated directors Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir), Yaron Shani (Ajami), Dror Moreh (The Gatekeepers), and award-winning television writer-producers Gideon Raff (Homeland) and Hagai Levi (The Affair, In Treatment).

Mr. Tisch's gift has allowed the School's academic programs to significantly expand, most recently with the launch of a new Digital Media Studies program that introduces students to advanced media production technology. The Production and Directing Studies program has expanded from three to four years, offering a deeper and more gradual development of knowledge and professional skills. The Film Studies program has also grown to offer students a broader curriculum and the opportunity to explore innovative new teaching methods.

New scholarships have enabled students from all walks of life to attend the School, which has quickly become a global magnet for film and television.

Steve Tisch: Philanthropist, film producer and leader

Tisch is a partner at Escape Artists Productions and is co-owner, chairman and executive vice president of the New York Football Giants, the only person with both an Academy Award® and a Super Bowl ring. He received his Academy Award® as a producer of Forrest Gump, which won the Oscar® for Best Picture in 1994, and has received two Super Bowl rings as Chairman of the Giants.

For more than three decades, Tisch has successfully produced compelling stories in film and television, from the critically acclaimed television movie, The Burning Bed, to Risky Business, the sleeper hit that helped launch Tom Cruise’s career.

Other notable films include The Pursuit of Happyness, The Weather Man, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Back-Up Plan, Hope Springs, American History X, Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and The Equalizer.

Tisch has long been a leader in the philanthropic sector and generously contributes his time and resources to a variety of organizations. Tisch is on the Boards of The Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University. He is the naming benefactor of the sports and fitness center at his alma mater, Tufts University, and of the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT program.

In 2014, Tisch served as the first honorary chair of the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival at TAU, long ranked among the top three student film festivals in the world. Established in 1986 by TAU Film & TV students, the prestigious Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival is now the largest in the world.

In 2015, TAU announced a $10 million gift from Tisch to transform the University’s renowned Department of Film and Television into The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television. Over the last year, his investment has helped TAU enhance curriculums, attract and expand top level talent, boost its capacity to offer scholarships, provide new state-of-the-art equipment and building renovations, and bring further international collaborations.

Photo caption (left to right): Gideon Raff and Steve Tisch.

Graduate of Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at TAU Awarded Student Oscar® for Best Foreign Documentary

Maya Sarfaty's The Most Beautiful Woman is first Israeli documentary to win a Student Academy Award

Maya Sarfaty, a graduate of the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University, won the Student Academy Award for Best Foreign Documentary on Monday, August 29, for her film The Most Beautiful Woman. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Sarfaty would be receiving a gold medal for her film and that she can submit her film for the Hollywood Oscar race later this year.

Sarfaty, a native of Netanya, earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from the Tisch School of Film and Television. Her work is the first Israeli documentary and the second Israeli film to win a Student Oscar. The first, Paris on Water (2014), was also written and directed by a TAU graduate, Hadas Ayalon.

The Most Beautiful Woman tells the true story of Helena and Rosinka Citronova, sisters who were deported from their native Slovakia to Auschwitz together with Rosinka's two children. Once in the death camp, Helena captured the amorous attentions of SS officer and camp guard Franz Wunsch, who ultimately saved her and her sister from certain death in the gas chambers. Tragically, Rosinka's two children were not spared.

The film first made waves last year when it won grants from the David Perlov Film Fund, the Rabinowitz Tel-Aviv Foundation, Gesher Israel and the Bernstein Family Foundation.

This year the Academy selected 17 student nominees out of a record number of entries — 1,749 films submitted by US students and 95 films from colleges and universities in other countries — in seven categories. The nominees will be flown to Los Angeles a week before the September 22 award ceremony for seven days of studio activities and networking events.

Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at TAU Announces First Annual Influencer Award at Sony Pictures Studios

Homeland Executive Producer and TAU Alum Gideon Raff to be honored at September 14th reception

Photo: Gideon RaffThe Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University will give its first annual Influencer Award at a reception at 6:30 pm on September 14, 2016, at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California. The recipient is writer, director, producer, Emmy Award-winner and TAU alum Gideon Raff, the man famous for bringing Homeland to the United States. The evening’s emcee is award winning, critically acclaimed actor/producer Jason Isaacs.

The reception will also celebrate the vision and generosity of film producer and philanthropist Steve Tisch, who made a transformative $10,000,000 gift to the School in 2015.

“The Influencer Award Reception will serve as an opportunity to celebrate the power of the film and television industry in general and to acknowledge the impactful work of some of the outstanding individuals in the business,” said Steve Tisch. “Gideon Raff is most deserving of this recognition and I’m proud that he will be the inaugural recipient of the Influencer Award. Ultimately I hope that these awards will inspire film students around the world to tell stories that help break down barriers and increase dialogue and understanding.”

“We’re very excited to celebrate the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at the first-ever Influencer Award Reception. Steve Tisch’s support of Tel Aviv University has allowed us to redefine the way students study film and television,” said Gail Reiss, President and CEO, American Friends of Tel Aviv University. “We’re also very pleased to honor Gideon Raff, a proud Tel Aviv University alum, who has made such significant contributions to the world’s film and television industry. Our goal for the evening is to let people feel for themselves the kind of passion and excitement that Steve Tisch and Gideon Raff felt the first time they walked into a filmmaking class at Tel Aviv University. We'll also screen some short films by current and former Tel Aviv University students.”

First Annual Influencer Award Honoree

Gideon Raff is the Executive Producer of Homeland, which was adapted from his highest-rated Israeli TV drama of all time, Prisoners of War, and won the Emmy in 2012 and the Golden Globe for Best Television Series in 2012 and 2013. Raff received a primetime Emmy Award for his writing. The show has been nominated for the 2016 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series.

Some of Raff’s other acclaimed credits include creating the TV drama series Tyrant and co-creating Dig, an event series on USA starring Jason Isaacs as an FBI agent investigating a murder of a female archeologist in Jerusalem.

“I’m incredibly honored to receive the inaugural Influencer Award,” said Raff. “Tel Aviv University gave me so many opportunities that have led to a career that I could have only dreamed about. And now, thanks in large part to my good friend, Steve Tisch, and his significant contribution to the university, I know many other young Israeli filmmakers are going to get their big break, too.

“Steve and I share a passion for storytelling and I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to do that throughout my career. I was born and raised in Jerusalem and the high stakes of living there fascinate me. The stories can be very moving. Prisoners of War was a small Israeli show intended for a small market. Yet, it found its way into 30 countries in its original form and we’re remaking it in so many markets – Russia, India, South Korea etc.”

Influencer Award Emcee

The evening’s emcee is Jason Isaacs, who has won or been nominated for Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, International Emmy, Critics’ Circle, Critics’ Choice, Blockbuster and Satellite awards. He spent nearly a year working closely with Gideon Raff, starring in the 10-part USA mini-series Dig. Probably best known to an entire generation as the sinister Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, Isaacs' enormous range of movie work encompasses The Patriot, Black Hawk Down, Green Zone, Armageddon, Peter Pan, Friends with Money, Event Horizon, End of the Affair, Fury, Good and more. His US TV work includes Showtime’s Peabody Award-winning series Brotherhood, BAFTA-nominated series Case Histories on PBS, NBC’s Awake and The West Wing, HBO’s Entourage and, of course, USA’s Dig.

Isaacs will soon appear in the new Netflix series The OA, Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness and Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin and is taking time out from shooting Hotel Mumbai in India to host the 2016 Influencer Award reception.

Influencer Award Co-Chairs

Tel Aviv University also announced an impressive list of co-chairs who will be hosting the Influencer Awards event. The list includes media industry icons Gail Berman and Bill Masters, Jonathan Littman, Rick Rosen, Chris Silbermann, Ari Folman, Eytan Fox, Brett Ratner, Alon Shtruzman, and our emcee host Jason Isaacs.

The star-studded co-chairs hail from all aspects of the entertainment industry.

Gail Berman is one of the few media executives to hold the top posts at both a major film studio and a broadcast television network. She was named President of Paramount Pictures in March 2005. Before joining Paramount, Ms. Berman served from 2000 to 2005 as President of Entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Company. She took the network to the top of the ratings for the first time in its history, developing gigantic hits such as American Idol, 24, House, Arrested Development, Bones, and Family Guy. Berman is currently CEO of The Jackal Group.

Bill Masters, the husband of Gail Berman, is a well-known comedy writer and producer, whose work includes Caroline in the City, Grace Under Fire, Greetings from Home and Raising Dad.

Jonathan Littman, an Emmy-award winning producer, is an executive at Jerry Bruckheimer Television. Some of his credits include CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and The Amazing Race.

Rick Rosen, founder and head of the Television Department at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, has also made his mark in the television industry. As an agent his clients include Dick Wolf (Law & Order), Linwood Boomer (Malcolm in the Middle) and Gideon Raff.

ICM Partners Founding Partner Chris Silbermann will also be co-chairing the event. Silbermann’s agency has represented hit shows like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Grey’s Anatomy, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Modern Family.

TAU alum Ari Folman is a critically acclaimed, Israel-based film director, screenwriter and film score composer, best known for directing the animated documentary film Waltz with Bashir, as well as directing the live-action/animated film The Congress. He currently plans to direct an animated drama film based on the life of Anne Frank during the Holocaust.

Eytan Fox, also from Israel and also a TAU alum, is a film director known for his groundbreaking film Yossi and Jagger, as well as Walk on Water and The Bubble.

Brett Ratner is a graduate of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. He started his career as a music video director working with Russell Simmons, Mariah Carey, Jay-Z and Madonna. He is currently at the top of his field as a major motion picture director and producer with credits including the Rush Hour film series, The Family Man, Red Dragon, X-Men: The Last Stand and Tower Heist.

Alon Shtruzman is a media executive and television producer. He is CEO of Keshet International, Keshet Media Group’s global distribution and production arm. As one of the founders of the Israeli multi-channel industry, Shtruzman commissioned the original In Treatment and introduced the country’s first video-on-demand service.

The Tel Aviv University School of Film and Television

The renowned Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University is Israel’s leading institution of film and television studies, ranked by The Hollywood Reporter among the Top 15 International Film Schools for the third year in a row.

The School has won top titles at film festivals around the world including The Montreal Film Festival, Shanghai International Film Festival, Palm Springs Short Film Festival, Rome Independent Film Festival, American Documentary Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival. An enrolled TAU film student has been nominated for a 2016 Student Academy award.

TAU has educated generations of filmmakers and scholars who are heavyweights of the industry, including Oscar®-nominated directors Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir), Yaron Shani (Ajami), Dror Moreh (The Gatekeepers), and award-winning television writer-producers Gideon Raff (Homeland) and Hagai Levi (The Affair, In Treatment).

Mr. Tisch's gift has allowed the School's academic programs to significantly expand, most recently with the launch of a new Digital Media Studies program that introduces students to advanced media production technology. The Production and Directing Studies program has expanded from three to four years, offering a deeper and more gradual development of knowledge and professional skills. The Film Studies program has also grown to offer students a broader curriculum and the opportunity to explore innovative new teaching methods.

New scholarships have enabled students from all walks of life to attend the School, which has quickly become a global magnet for film and television.

Steve Tisch: Philanthropist, film producer and leader

Tisch is a partner at Escape Artists Productions and is co-owner, chairman and executive vice president of the New York Football Giants, the only person with both an Academy Award® and a Super Bowl ring. He received his Academy Award® as a producer of Forrest Gump, which won the Oscar® for Best Picture in 1994, and has received two Super Bowl rings as Chairman of the Giants.

For more than three decades, Tisch has successfully produced compelling stories in film and television, from the critically acclaimed television movie The Burning Bed to Risky Business, the sleeper hit that helped launch Tom Cruise’s career.

Other notable films include The Pursuit of Happyness, The Weather Man, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Back-Up Plan, Hope Springs, American History X, Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and The Equalizer.

Tisch has long been a leader in the philanthropic sector and generously contributes his time and resources to a variety of organizations. Tisch is on the Boards of The Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University. He is the naming benefactor of the sports and fitness center at his alma mater, Tufts University, and of the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT program.

In 2014, Tisch served as the first honorary chair of the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival at TAU, long ranked among the top three student film festivals in the world. Established in 1986 by TAU Film & TV students, the prestigious Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival is now the largest in the world.

In 2015, TAU announced a $10 million gift from Tisch to transform the University’s renowned Department of Film and Television into The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television. Over the last year, his investment has helped TAU enhance curriculums, attract and expand top level talent, boost its capacity to offer scholarships, provide new state-of-the-art equipment and building renovations, and bring further international collaborations.

2016 TLV Film Festival Celebrates 30 Years of Cinematic Imagination

Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival draws heavyweights, rising stars from local and international film industries

The Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival — one of the largest and most influential student film festivals in the world according to CILECT, the International Association of Film and Television Schools — was held June 9-16, 2016 at Givon Square, a bustling commercial center in downtown Tel Aviv.

Established in 1986 by students from TAU's Steve Tisch School of Film and Television, the festival is now an annual event supported by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, the Israel Film Council, and Tel Aviv University. The Tisch School is the only film school in the world where student filmmakers own the rights to their student films. The School's admission policy is equally unique. All qualified applicants — high school graduates with appropriate college entrance exam scores, etc. — are admitted to the first-year BFA program. That number hovers around 200. 65 students are invited to continue to the second year, after faculty and lecturers have had the opportunity to gauge the quality and artistic merit of their work.

TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter welcomed the enthusiastic audience to the festival premiere, recognizing distinguished guests such as Dean of the Faculty of Arts Zvika Serper, Head of the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television Yaron Bloch, Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Assaf Zamir, and others. "Tonight we are celebrating the festival's 30th anniversary, just as we celebrated the university's 60th anniversary just this week," he said.

The 2016 Student Film Festival featured 200 short films from 50 countries and drew more than a hundred film students, veteran filmmakers, and distinguished directors from around the world for special screenings, master classes and cultural pop-up events at the University and across the city. The festival's unique Film Bus, a travelling theater that brings the short films to all parts of the country, made its fifth nationwide circuit this year.

Special guests included some of the world's most distinguished filmmakers: Oscar-winning director Michel Hazanavicius, American director David Gordon Green, Oscar nominee Gotz Spielmann, innovative Portuguese director Joao Pedro Rodrigues, editors Monica Willi and Claire Atherton, and others.

The winners of the festival competitions were announced at the weeklong event's closing ceremony held at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on June 16. The two biggest prizes in the International Competition went to TAU Tisch School students: the Tatjana Palkovitz Award for Best Film went to The Fine Line by Dana Lerer and the Best Director Furnished by HOT Television Award went to Up and Arise by Raanan Berger Israel.

The Israeli Film Critics Forum Award went to In Other Words by Tal Kantor. The Israeli Competition Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor's Award for Best Film went to Anna by Or Sinai.

Image caption: Film still from Dana Lerer's The Fine Line, winner of the Tatjana Palkovitz Award for Best Film at the 2016 TLV Film Festival.

Steve Tisch School of Film and Television Inaugurated

Visionary Oscar®-winning producer Steve Tisch cuts ribbon in a festive ceremony

Photo: Steve Tisch, Prof. Joseph Klafter, Prof. Zvi Serper and Yaron BlochIn a milestone for Tel Aviv University and Israel's film industry, the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at the Yolanda and David Katz Faculty of Arts was inaugurated during the Board of Governors Meeting by Steve Tisch, a 2016 TAU Honorary Doctorate recipient.

In 2015, TAU announced a $10 million gift from Tisch to transform the University's renowned Department of Film and Television into the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television. Over the last year, his investment has helped TAU enhance curriculum, attract and expand top-level talent, boost its capacity to offer scholarships, provide new state-of-the-art equipment and building renovations and bring further international collaborations at the School. Enrollment is up 30%.

"I'm honored by this recognition and pleased to support the efforts of a university that is at the forefront of nurturing creative talent," said Tisch at the ribbon-cutting and inauguration ceremony. "When I came to Tel Aviv University two years ago as honorary chair of the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival, I was inspired by the artistry, passion and commitment of the students here. I strongly believe in the power of storytelling and that stories told through film and television can break down barriers and increase dialogue and understanding. My hope is to help these students achieve their dreams and share their creative stories in the international arena."

TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter said, "Steve Tisch's investment in our university has positioned the Film and TV School as a world class center of creativity, and will continue to enhance academic training and knowledge for many years to come."

TAU has educated generations of filmmakers and scholars who are heavyweights of the industry, including Oscar®-nominated directors Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir), Yaron Shani (Ajami), Dror Moreh (The Gatekeepers) and award-winning television writer-producers Gideon Raff (Homeland) and Hagai Levi (The Affair, In Treatment).

The Hollywood Reporter ranked the Steve Tisch School of Film & TV among the top 15 international film schools for the second year in a row.

Yaron Bloch, Head of the Steve Tisch School, said, "Our horizons have truly expanded in every way, thanks to Mr. Tisch — from launching new programs and academic course, including a Digital Media Program, to purchasing quality equipment that has enhanced our students' creative ambitions."

The School has won top titles at film festivals around the world this year, including the Montreal World Film Festival, Shanghai International Film Festival, Palm Springs Short Film Festival, Rome International Film Festival, American Documentary Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival.

Steve Tisch: Philanthropist, film producer and leader

Steve Tisch is a partner at Escape Artists Productions and is co-owner, chairman and executive vice president of the New York Football Giants, and the only person with both an Academy Award and a Super Bowl ring. He received his Academy Award as a producer of Forrest Gump, which won the Oscar® for Best Picture in 1994, and has received two Super Bowl rings as Chairman of the Giants.

For more than three decades, Tisch has successfully produced compelling stories in film and television, from the critically acclaimed television movie The Burning Bed to Risky Business, the sleeper hit that helped launch Tom Cruise's career. Other notable films include The Pursuit of Happiness, The Weather Man, The Taking of Pelham 123, American History X and The Equalizer, among numerous others.

Tisch has been a leader in the philanthropic sector and generously contributes his time and resources to a variety of organizations. He is on the board of the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University. He is the naming benefactor of the sports and fitness center at his alma mater, Tufts University and of the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT program.

In 2014 Steve Tisch served as the first honorary chair of the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival at TAU, long ranked among the top three student film festivals in the world. Established in 1986, the prestigious festival is now the largest student film festival in the world.

Attending the attendees were Dean of the Yolanda and David Katz Faculty of Arts Prof. Zvika Serper and Richard Sincere, National Chairman of American Friends of Tel Aviv University.

Photo caption, left to right: Steve Tisch; TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter; Dean of the Yolanda and David Katz Faculty of Arts Prof. Zvika Serper; and Head of the Steve Tisch School Yaron Bloch.

 

TAU Awards Honorary Doctorate to Oscar®-Winning Producer Steve Tisch

Philanthropist and filmmaker honored for vision and global influence in cinematic arts and for significant investment in university


Steve Tisch and Katia Franesconi. 
Photo: Israel Bardugo

Tel Aviv University (TAU), Israel's largest institution of higher learning, conferred its most distinguished award of an Honorary Doctorate to philanthropist and Academy Award®-winning film producer Steve Tisch at the 2016 Board of Governors Meeting on Thursday, May 19, 2016, at the Tel Aviv University Miriam and Adolfo Smolarz Auditorium.

The honorary degree conferment ceremony at the Board of Governors Meeting followed a special ribbon cutting and inauguration of The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television, which took place on Tuesday, May 17.

Tisch was honored for his commitment and significant contributions to TAU, which have helped elevate Israel's leading institution of film and television studies.

In 2015, TAU announced a $10 million gift from Tisch to transform the University's renowned Department of Film and Television into The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television. Over the last year, his investment has helped TAU enhance curriculums, attract and expand top level talent, boost its capacity to offer scholarships, provide new state-of-the-art equipment and building renovations, and bring further international collaborations.

"I'm honored by this recognition and pleased to support the efforts of a university that is at the forefront of nurturing creative talent," said Steve Tisch. "When I came to Tel Aviv University two years ago as honorary chair of the Tel Aviv Student Film Festival, I was inspired by the artistry, passion and commitment of the students here. I strongly believe in the power of storytelling and that stories told through film and television can break down barriers and increase dialogue and understanding. My hope is to help these students achieve their dreams and share their creative stories in the international arena."

"Steve Tisch's investment in our university has positioned the Film and TV School as a world-class center of creativity, and will continue to enhance academic training and knowledge for many years to come," said Tel Aviv University President Prof. Joseph Klafter. "His contributions have been instrumental in increasing the School's visibility and stature, strengthening Israel's global influence on the cinematic arts and fueling TAU's commitment to breeding industry leaders and innovators across all disciplines."

TAU has educated generations of filmmakers and scholars who are heavyweights of the industry, including Oscar®-nominated directors Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir), Yaron Shani (Ajami), Dror Moreh (The Gatekeepers), and award-winning television writer-producers Gideon Raff (Homeland) and Hagai Levi (The Affair, In Treatment).

The Hollywood Reporter ranked the Steve Tisch School of Film & TV among the Top 15 International Film Schools for the second year in a row.

"The breadth and diversity of our expanded activities for the Film School since Steve Tisch's contribution are unparalleled and know no bounds," said Yaron Bloch, head of the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at TAU. "Our horizons have truly expanded in every way, thanks to Mr. Tisch — from launching new programs and academic courses to purchasing quality equipment that have furthered our students' creative ambitions."

TAU School of Film & TV continues to transform

The School has won top titles at film festivals around the world this year, including the Montreal World Film Festival, Shanghai International Film Festival, Palm Springs Short Film Festival, Rome Independent Film Festival and American Documentary Film Festival.

Mr. Tisch's gift has also allowed the School's academic programs to expand, most recently with the launch of a new Digital Media Studies program that introduces students to advanced media production technology. The Production and Directing Studies program has expanded from three to four years, offering a deeper and more gradual development of knowledge and professional skills. The Film Studies program has also grown to offer students a broader curriculum and the opportunity to explore innovative new teaching methods.

New scholarships have also enabled students from all walks of life to attend the School, which has quickly become a global magnet for film and television.

The School of Film & TV is currently hosting two major film festivals and three academic conferences a year, thanks to Tisch's contribution.

Steve Tisch: Philanthropist, film producer and leader

Tisch is a partner at Escape Artists Productions and is co-owner, chairman and executive vice president of the New York Football Giants, the only person with both an Academy Award® and a Super Bowl ring. He received his Academy Award® as a producer of Forrest Gump, which won the Oscar® for Best Picture in 1994, and has received two Super Bowl rings as Chairman of the Giants.

For more than three decades, Tisch has successfully produced compelling stories in film and television, from the critically acclaimed television movie, The Burning Bed, to Risky Business, the sleeper hit that helped launch Tom Cruise's career. Other notable films include The Pursuit of Happyness, The Weather Man, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Back-Up Plan, Hope Springs, American History X, Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and The Equalizer.

Tisch has long been a leader in the philanthropic sector and generously contributes his time and resources to a variety of organizations. Tisch is on the Boards of The Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University. He is the naming benefactor of the sports and fitness center at his alma mater, Tufts University, and of the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT program.

In 2014, Tisch served as the first honorary chair of the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival at TAU, long ranked among the top three student film festivals in the world. Established in 1986 by TAU Film & TV students, the prestigious Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival is now the largest in the world.

TAU Student Film Wins Applause at Legendary Tribeca Film Festival

BBC calls Ben Hakim's The Operator "compelling"

Photo: Ben HakimA drone operator spends her workday alone in a darkened room, guiding deadly missiles to targets she can see on monitors in front of her. Then, at the end of her day, she returns home — to her other role as a single mother.

Ben Hakim's short film The Operator had its international premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 14, 2016. It explores the nexus between the professional and the personal. It has already garnered critical praise: The BBC's Tom Brook called it "compelling" on his Talking Movies program. And the film is likely to generate more praise when it's screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

"The Operator is about a world we could face in just a few years, when killing people is done from a distance, with no shame, anonymously, behind computers," Hakim says. "A young mother who faces hard challenges at work, spending her days in a small isolated room with nothing but voices and images for company. It's the best metaphor for showing this conflict."

Hakim says his initial inspiration for the film had nothing to do with politics. "The bad guys in the movie aren't identified as terrorists, only as anonymous numbers," he says. "I think that makes a greater impact. I wanted to show the growing problem of technology's destructive uses — not only its violence, but the ways it can separate us from each other. If people choose to interpret it politically, well, that's their decision."

A film from a Tel Aviv University "family"

From "The Operator"The Operator is Hakim's final student project at the Tel Aviv University Steve Tisch School of Film and Television. The director graduated from the school in 2014.

The film was very much a Tel Aviv University project. Much of the film was shot on a set built at TAU. Cinematographer Pablo Arcuschin and screenwriter Lior Zalmanson are TAU alums. Hakim's brother, Amir, contributed the musical score.

"Being a student gave me a whole new perspective on storytelling," says Hakim. "It also gave me the drive to make my own films the way I want to make them.

"I think Israeli filmmakers have fresh minds and great courage, because they face a reality that changes every day," Hakim continues. "They have to be alert all the time. And that's a very important part of being a film director."

The personal challenge of a "dark" shoot

Hakim says that the shoot for the short film took its toll on both cast and crew. "Noa Biron, the lead actress of the film, spent all that time on that dark set, with those videos of bombs finding their targets. It helped her to get into character, but we all felt a bit depressed by it. But that's the magic of film — when we shifted to her apartment, which we shot on location, and filmed the scenes with her son, we all felt very compassionate."

Hakim started making home movies at the age of 11. His first film, Destiny, won the first prize at 2005 Jerusalem Film Festival when he was 18 years old. In 2008, his short film The Elevator won international awards at the New York Short Film Festival, the Milano International Film Festival, the Hamburg Film Festival, and the Atlanta Film Festival. He has also served as the editor-in-chief of the most important Israeli movie portal, Seret.co.il. His other films include Dr. Sharon and Being There, which have been screened at many film festivals.

The Operator will screen again at the Tribeca Film Festival on Wednesday, April 20, and Saturday, April 23, before moving on to its May screening at Cannes. Funding for the film was provided by the Rabinowitch Film Foundation in collaboration with the Utopia Film Festival and the filmmaker himself.

Photos:

Top: Ben Hakim

Left: Noa Biron in The Operator

TAU Shines Spotlight on "Mad Men" Creator Matthew Weiner

The Hollywood writer, director and producer receives President's Award 2015 for his achievements in television

Photo: Matthew WeinerMad Men creator Matthew Weiner was honored in December by Tel Aviv University for his many contributions to the entertainment industry, winning the school's prestigious President's Award. Weiner also taught packed-to-capacity master classes at TAU's Steve Tisch School of Film and Television.

In his opening remarks, TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter told Weiner, "You've won nine Emmys, three Golden Globes, and now the President's Award of Tel Aviv University."

Accepting the award, Weiner spoke about being moved by his experiences in Israel. "This is my first trip to Israel and I'm part of a generation that didn't rush here right away," he said. "It's not the case everywhere in the world where you can just announce that you're Jewish. And I would say on some level my parents raised us not to announce that we're Jewish, but I feel lucky I've never had a problem with it, my children don't have a problem with it, and I'm very proud of my heritage.

"I feel so much energy at the university and there's so much creativity going on," Weiner continued. "It's a pleasure for me as an artist to come here and get recognized."

Behind the scenes of Mad Men

Mad Men, a smart and complex series about ad man Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) and his family and colleagues in the 1960s, is widely considered one of the greatest television series of all time.

"At first I didn't know if the pilot would be picked up, and then I never knew if we would be renewed for another season," Weiner told guests at a glittery reception held prior to the award ceremony.

Following the award presentation, Weiner sat down for a conversation with Israeli-born, Hollywood-based producer Alon Aranya, a graduate of TAU's film school and creator of the hit shows Hostages and Betrayal. He shared his experience writing the pilot for Mad Men, saying, "I was a different person after I wrote it. The worst case scenario was I would have written something I was proud of, which would make me a nicer person."

For more, read the story in The Jerusalem Post: "A method to his madness".

TAU Alum's Film "Sandstorm" Receives Top Nod at Locarno Film Festival

Film studies grad wins first prize for a penetrating drama about a torn Bedouin family

Film still: SandstormSandstorm, a first feature by Elite Zexer, a graduate of Tel Aviv University's film directing program, won the top prize at the 2015 Locarno Film Festival's First Look on Israel pics-in-post showcase in Switzerland. The honor was accompanied by a prize of $66,000 and sponsored by Germany's Rotor Film. The film is a drama set in a Bedouin village where the lives of a woman and her two daughters are turned upside down after her husband marries a younger woman.

The festival's prestigious jury praised Sandstorm for its "mature, deeply observant storytelling and courageous depiction of the layered struggles of several generations of women." The film was produced by Haim Mecklberg and Estee Yacov-Mecklberg's prominent 2-Team Productions company.

The spotlight's six works-in-progress were screened during Locarno's Industry Days informal market to international sales agents, film investors, distributors, and festival programmers.

For the full story, read the article in Variety: "Locarno: Female Empowerment Drama Sandstorm Wins First Look on Israel Showcase"

2015 TLV Film Festival Celebrates Pioneering Indie Spirit

17th Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival draws industry heavyweights and young filmmakers from over 70 countries


From award-winning film Line of Grace

The Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival, one of the largest and most influential student film festivals in the world according to CILECT, the International Association of Film and Television Schools, was held at Tel Aviv University and Tel Aviv's iconic Cinematheque on May 31–June 6, 2015. This year's festival, which featured 200 short films from 70 countries, drew more than a hundred film students, veteran filmmakers, and distinguished directors from around the world for special screenings, master classes and cultural events in the metropolis known as the "White City."

Established in 1986 by students from TAU's celebrated Steve Tisch School of Film and Television and previously held every two years, the festival is now an annual event supported by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, the Israel Film Council and Tel Aviv University.

The 2015 festival attracted some of the world's most distinguished filmmakers, including the titan of independent cinema in America, Hal Hartley. Several of Hartley's early films were screened at the festival, including Trust (1990), starring the late Adrienne Shelly and Martin Donovan; Amateur (1994), with Isabelle Huppert; and Flirt (1995), with Michael Imperioli. Henry Fool (1998), the first part of a recently completed trilogy that includes Fay Grim and Ned Rifle, was also featured.

"I am very proud of our students who initiated this project. It has since become one of the — if not the — most important student film festivals in the world," said TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter at the festival's opening ceremony in Yaffo's scenic Summit Garden.

"UNESCO recently added Tel Aviv-Yafo to its list of Most Creative Cities in the World," Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said at the ceremony. "Why is that? Because, in part, of festivals like this one. I am proud of the young people here who are enriching our lives. May you continue to do so and may you continue to make films."


From award-winning film Semper Idem

The winners of different festival competitions were announced at the weeklong event's official June 6 closing ceremony. The Best Independent Short Film Award went to Line of Grace by Israeli director Rotem Kapelinsky; the Festival Critics Award for Israeli Film went to Semper Idem by director/screenwriter Nachman Picovsky; and the Best Documentary in the International Competition Award went to If Mama Ain't Happy, Nobody's Happy by Dutch director Mea de Jong, among a dozen other prizes and notable mentions.

"Young filmmakers, free from commercial considerations, express their views through an uncompromised unique cinematic language," said Festival Directors Talia Bernstein and Roni Shamiss, who, as TAU student chairs, organized a veritable army of volunteers. "They are able to strengthen aspects of innovation and freshness essential to any art medium."

Other star guests in attendance included native-turned-Hollywood producer Ram Bergman, who recently produced Natalie Portman's directorial debut, an adaptation of Amos Oz's A Tale of Love and Darkness; film editor Dylan Tichenor; producer Effie T. Brown; and television writer-producer Kate Barnow.

In addition to the screenings and cultural events, the festival's unique Film Bus, a travelling theater that brings the short films to all parts of the country, particularly its periphery, made its fourth nationwide circuit this year.

TAU Grad Hits Highest Note at Berlin Music Contest

Hagar Sharvit wins first place at prestigious Das Lied International Song Competition

Hagar SharvitIsraeli opera singer Hagar Sharvit, a graduate of Tel Aviv University's Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, won the prestigious Das Lied International Song Competition in Berlin last month.

Mezzo-soprano Sharvit, 26, won both first prize (about $16,000 U.S.) and the Audience Award at the classical music talent contest, held every two years in the German capital. The competition attracts the best young talent in the business.

Sharvit, who wowed judges with her vocal skills, was accompanied on the piano by Jerusalem-born pianist Ammiel Bushakevitz. Bushakevitz was also recognized by the Das Lied prize committee for his skills, splitting the Pianist Prize (about $5,300 U.S.) with musician James Sherlock.

Sharvit has performed in several operas, including turns as Annina in La Traviata and Sandmännchen in Hänsel und Gretel with the Deutsche Oper am Rhein during the 2013-14 season. She also performed as Tisbe in Rossini’s Cenerentola with the Opera de Metz in 2013 and won first prize in the 19th International Johannes Brahms Competition Pörtschach in 2012.

Hagar has often performed as a representative of TAU's Buchmann-Mehta School of Music. She was the second prizewinner of the Clairmont Academy singing competition both in 2008 and 2010 and has performed as a soloist with TAU's Buchmann-Mehta School Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Camerata Jerusalem Orchestra, the Israel Sinfonietta Beer-Sheva Orchestra, the Israel Chamber Orchestra, and the Israel Stage Orchestra.

For more, read the story in the Times of Israel: Israeli opera singer wins prestigious Berlin contest

Teacher Prejudices Put Girls Off Math, Science

TAU study finds unconscious biases of elementary school instructors dramatically affect female academic choices later on

It's a fact: Women are vastly underrepresented in the fields of computer science, engineering, and mathematics. But less clear are the trajectories — academic and otherwise — that lead young women toward other professions. Higher education has already opened the door to equal opportunities for women and minorities in the U.S. — so is it possible that elementary school, as a new Tel Aviv University study suggests, is the critical juncture at which girls are discouraged from pursuing science and mathematics?

New research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that elementary school teachers' unconscious biases significantly influence female students' academic choices later on. According to researchers Dr. Edith Sand, an economist at the Bank of Israel and an instructor at TAU's Berglas School of Economics, and Prof. Victor Lavy, a professor at Hebrew University and University of Warwick in England, the classroom teacher's unwitting prejudice is a key factor explaining the divergence of boys' and girls' academic preferences.

"It isn't an issue of discrimination but of unconscious discouragement," said Dr. Sand. "This discouragement, however, has implications. The track to computer science and engineering fields, which report some of the highest salaries, tapers off in elementary school."

Taking the gender test

The research was carried out on three groups of students in Israel from sixth grade through the end of high school. The students were given two exams, the first graded by objective scorers who did not know their names and the second by instructors who did know them. In math, the girls outscored the boys in the test that was scored anonymously, but when graded by teachers who were familiar with their names, the boys outscored the girls. The effect was not the same for tests in non-math or science-related subjects.

The researchers concluded that, in math and science, the teachers overestimated the boys' skills and underestimated the girls' abilities, and that this had long-term implications for students' attitudes toward these subjects.

Opting out

"When the same students reached junior high and high school, we examined their performances in matriculation exams ('Bagrut' in Hebrew)," said Dr. Sand. "The boys who had been encouraged when they were younger performed significantly better than their female counterparts, though the latter had objectively scored higher at a younger age."

The researchers also monitored the advanced math and science courses that students chose to take in high school, concluding that the girls who had been discouraged by their elementary school teachers were much less likely than the boys to opt for advanced courses.

"If teachers take into account these effects, it could lead to a reduction of the gender gap in achievement, especially in science and math," said Dr. Sand. "It is clear how important encouragement is for both boys and girls in all their subjects. Teachers play a critical role in lowering and raising the confidence levels of their students, which has serious implications for their futures."

Even in Our Digital Age, Early Parental Writing Support Is Key to Children's Literacy

TAU study says caregivers should promote correct writing habits among preschoolers

Children of the Information Age are inundated with written words streaming across smartphone, tablet, and laptop screens. A new Tel Aviv University study says that preschoolers should be encouraged to write at a young age — even before they make their first step into a classroom.

A new study published in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly explains why early writing, preceding any formal education, plays an instrumental role in improving a child's literacy level, vocabulary, and fine motor skills. The research, conducted by Prof. Dorit Aram of TAU's Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education in collaboration with Prof. Samantha W. Bindman of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and other colleagues in the US, assessed the merits of early parental mediation of children's literacy and language in English, and recommended useful techniques to that end.

"Parents in the U.S. are obsessed with teaching their kids the ABCs," said Prof. Aram. "Probably because English is an 'opaque' language. Words do not sound the way they are spelled, unlike 'transparent' Spanish or Italian. Parents are using letters as their main resource of teaching early literacy, but what they should be doing is 'scaffolding' their children's writing, helping their children relate sounds to letters on the page even though the letters are not transparent."

"Grapho-phonemic mediation"

Prof. Aram has spent the last 15 years studying adult support of young children's writing. A major component of this support is what she calls "grapho-phonemic mediation." Through this method, a caregiver is actively involved in helping a child break down a word into segments to connect sounds to corresponding letters. For example, parents using a high level of grapho-phonemic mediation will assist their children by asking them to "sound out" a word as they put it to paper. This contradicts the traditional model of telling children precisely which letters to print on a page, spelling it out for them as they go.

"Early writing is an important but understudied skill set," said Prof. Aram. "Adults tend to view writing as associated with school, as 'torture.' My experience in the field indicates that it's quite the opposite — children are very interested in written language. Writing, unlike reading, is a real activity. Children watch their parents writing and typing, and they want to imitate them. It is my goal to assist adults in helping their children enter the world of writing by showing them all the lovely things they can communicate through writing, whether it's 'mommy, I love you' or even just 'I want chocolate.'"

Building a scaffold

In the study, 135 preschool children (72 girls and 63 boys) and their parents (primarily mothers) in an ethnically-diverse, middle-income US community were observed writing a semi-structured invitation for a birthday party. The researchers analyzed the degree of parental support and assessed the children's phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, word decoding, vocabulary, and fine motor skills. Overall grapho-phonemic support was most positively linked to children's decoding and fine motor skills.

Prof. Aram and her counterparts found that "scaffolding," or parental support, was most useful in developing early literacy skills. "The thing is to encourage children to write, but to remember that in writing, there is a right and a wrong," said Prof. Aram. "We have found that scaffolding is a particularly beneficial activity, because the parent guides the child. And, if that parent guides the child and also demands precision in a sensitive and thoughtful way — i.e. 'what did you mean to write here? Let me help you' — this definitely develops the child's literary skill set."

Prof. Aram is currently researching interventions to promote the early writing of children from low socio-economic backgrounds, parental writing mediation for a digital world, and different schools of thought on parental writing mediation.

Breaking with Tradition: The “Personal Touch” Is Key to Cultural Preservation

Idiosyncratic acts performed during cultural practices are responsible for the rituals' survival, says TAU study

"Memetics," or the study of memes, is a very popular discipline among cultural researchers now, particularly as it concerns new media like viral videos. But no one seems to know what a meme really is.

Originally coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, the "meme" transfers cultural information much the way that genes inherit biological properties. Pharrell Williams' feel-good hit "Happy" (2013), one of the top-selling singles of all time, is a recent example of a wildly popular meme. Originally tucked away in the soundtrack of the film Despicable Me 2, the song spread across the viral Net through thousands of similarly-formatted cover videos, ultimately enjoying global sales of over ten million copies — a true display of memetic cultural transference.

However, unlike genes, well-defined biological entities with clear structural units, memes have long been slapped with the vague label "cultural replicators." Now a Tel Aviv University study scheduled for publication in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews provides insight into the building blocks of cultural replication and the different ways they're used to preserve traditional rituals and practices.

Adding the personal touch to tradition

According to the research by Prof. David Eilam of the Department of Zoology at TAU's Faculty of Life Sciences, together with Dr. Michal Fux, Dr. Joel Mort, and Dr. Tom Lawson of Queens University Belfast, idiosyncratic acts, once considered merely incidental to the memes — the common actions that form the basis of traditions — are actually essential for their survival in a culture. Conducted alongside a few fixed memes, individualized gestures ensured the very survival of a ritual or practice by providing simplicity, flexibility, and creative license.

For the purpose of the study, Prof. Eilam and his team observed and analyzed a wedding dance called the "Umsindo," performed by the Zulu tribe in South Africa. In this dance, only one act — the high kick, the standard meme of the dance — was performed by all 19 participants. But all the dancers engaged in additional idiosyncratic movements resembling free-style dance before and after executing the high kick. The researchers found these idiosyncratic movements to be indispensable to the easy transference and preservation of this long-practiced cultural ritual.

Keeping it simple

"There are a limited number of common acts that lead to the continuation of any given tradition," said Prof. Eilam. "On the one hand this is surprising, but on the other it makes sense. You can't teach or transfer very complex things. In the Umsindo dance, there is just one common gesture. The rest you are free to improvise."

The same process characterized the application of phylacteries (a head and arm garment replete with leather bands and a small box) performed by observant Jewish men at the TAU synagogue, the researchers observed. In the application ritual, only 11 out of 67 acts were recognized as common to all the gestures of the application and could be regarded as the "memes" by virtue of their commonality and high frequency of performance. Again, the vast majority of the gestures during the ritual were found to be idiosyncratic, providing flexibility and creative license during a rigorous religious ritual that has been practiced throughout centuries.

"The common acts of the memes are always accompanied by idiosyncratic acts that establish identity and preserve behavioral flexibility," said Prof. Eilam. "In other words, idiosyncratic acts, or 'behavioral variability,' appear to be an essential component that participates in the evolution of behavioral patterns, similar to genetic variability in biology."

Prof. Eilam is continuing his research on memes, exploring how these fixed actions emerge and why they are specifically selected in the evolution of cultural and other behavioral practices.

Feeling Their Pain at the Multiplex

TAU researcher shows movie audiences and schizophrenics share brain activity patterns

In one of the final scenes of the 2010 psychological thriller Black Swan, Nina, a ballerina played by Natalie Portman, finally loses her grip on reality, hallucinating that black feathers are poking through her skin.

According to Prof. Talma Hendler of Tel Aviv University's School of Psychological Sciences, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, and Sagol School of Neuroscience, the brain activity of audience members watching this dramatic scene resembles that observed in many schizophrenics. "As Nina is getting crazier and crazier, audience members themselves experience something like schizophrenia," Prof. Hendler said recently at an event sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Prof. Hendler and her team of researchers have been investigating networks in the brain that appear to play a role in empathy. She has found evidence for two types of empathy, each tied to a different network of brain regions. The first, "mental empathy," requires you to mentally step outside yourself and think about what another person is thinking or experiencing. The second, "embodied empathy," is the intuitive, primal empathy you might feel witnessing someone get punched.

At the event, Prof. Hendler presented fMRI brain scan data of subjects who had watched several emotional movies. In audiences who had watched the dramatic scene from Black Swan, Prof. Hendler found that the "mental empathy" network predominated, while the "embodied empathy" network only flickered to life occasionally — when Nina pulled a feather from her back, for example.

Prof. Hendler has witnessed this pattern, which relies more heavily on the mental empathy network even in the face of a visceral experience, in her schizophrenia patients. "It's as if they have to think through the emotional impact of situations that other people grasp more intuitively and automatically," she said.

For more, read the story at Wired.com:

How Movies Trick Your Brain Into Empathizing With Characters

Oscar-winning Producer Steve Tisch Chairs World's Largest Student Film Festival, Based at TAU

16th Tel Aviv Student Film Festival draws industry notables and young film makers from more than 40 countries

Steve Tisch
Steve Tisch

Steve Tisch, the Academy Award-winning producer and executive Vice President and Chairman of the New York Giants, chaired the 16th Tel Aviv Student Film Festival last week. Held at Tel Aviv University, it is the largest student film festival in the world, and widely acknowledged as the most influential. This year, 250 short films from 40 countries were screened.

Speaking at the festival's opening ceremony in the picturesque Summit Garden site overlooking the Mediterranean and the city of Tel Aviv on May 31, 2014, Tisch said, "To the students who are graduating, I am going to ask you to do one thing. When you go into the movie business, please take out of your vocabulary the word 'fair.' Make the movies that you want to make from your heart, the movies you believe in, with the passion you have had — if you are like me — since you were 12 years old."

"Mr. Tisch embodies the spirit of the festival — dynamic, progressive, and creatively adventurous," said TAU film students Talia Bernstein and Roni Shamiss, who, as student chairs, organized an army of volunteers.

The festival generated broad international interest, featuring industry icons like Tisch and the French filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, whose latest movie Two Days, One Night opened the event on May 31st. Established in 1986 by students from TAU's celebrated Department of Film and Television and previously held every two years, the festival will now be an annual event thanks to new funding from the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, the Israel Film Council, and Tel Aviv University.

Hollywood expertise, universal passion

As the first Chairman of the festival, Tisch brought Hollywood know-how, glamour, and a significant track record to his role. Three decades ago he helped launch Tom Cruise's career with the sleeper hit Risky Business, and his credits include American History X, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Weather Man, Seven Pounds, Knowing, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Back-Up Plan, Hope Springs, and the Academy Award winning Best Film, Forrest Gump.

In a special Q&A session with legendary Israeli filmmaker Katriel Schori, held at TAU's Department of Film & Television, Tisch discussed the types of films he particularly loves making, his coming of age as a producer, and the differences among the American, Israeli, and European film industries. The student audience, filling the lecture hall to capacity, gave him a roaring round of applause at the end of the session.

"I spent five years at Columbia Pictures, which was my graduate school," he said. "By working at the studio I was able not only to meet writers, filmmakers, directors, editors, cinematographers, but — on the other end — to also meet pretty serious agents and lawyers, gaining exposure to both the creative and business sides. After five years, I felt ready to go out on my own and start producing."

Tisch has three films scheduled for release this year: Sex Tape, directed by Jake Kasdan and starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, opens in July, 2014; The Equalizer, directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington, opens in September, 2014; and The Business Trip, directed by Ken Scott and starring Vince Vaughn, opens in March, 2015.

Currently a partner at Escape Artists Productions and the Chairman and Executive Vice President of the New York Giants, Tisch is the only person to have won both an Academy Award and a Super Bowl ring — actually two rings: Super Bowls XLII and XLVI.

Industry heavyweights


Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

This year, the festival's student films explored subjects including adolescence, death, loneliness, faith, identity, and equality. 25 of the films were made by students at Israel's film schools, providing an encouraging insight into the future of Israeli filmmaking. Israeli director Eytan Fox (Yossi and Jagger and Walk on Water) served as head judge, joined by Kim Yutani, programmer for the Sundance Film Festival, Israeli producer Gal Greenspan, and Afghan French director Barmak Akram (Wajma — An Afghan Love Story).

Special guests included French director Leos Carax. Over his three-and-a-half-decade career, Carax has only directed five feature-length films, but they were more than enough to cement his place among the most noteworthy active directors in France. His films Lovers on Bridge (1991) and Holy Motors (2012) were screened during the festival, and Carax also ran a directing worship, open to the public.

An editing workshop featured Molly Malene Stensgaard — known for editing many of Lars von Trier's films including his latest, Nymphomaniac — in which she discussed her work with the celebrated and controversial director.

Other notable guests included South Korean director and screenwriter Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil), Romanian director Radu Muntean (Boogie and the recent Tuesday After Christmas) and Chilean director and screenwriter Sebastian Silva (Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus).

Members of the festival's judging panels and its special guests regularly include luminaries of world cinema. Past judges and speakers include actors Richard Gere, Marcello Mastroianni, Erland Josephson, and Sarah Polley; directors Robert Wise, Jim Sheridan, Chantal Akerman, Paul Schrader, Giuseppe Tornatore, Theo Angelopoulos, Emir Kusturica, Hicham Ayouch, Paolo Sorrentino, and Ari Folman; and producers Arnon Milchan, Roger Corman, Jan Harlan, Ori Inbar, and Nick Frazer.

A far-ranging program


Poster for
Houses with Small Windows

The festival, widely acknowledged as the most important student film festival in the world, comprised three categories this year: the International Forum, showcasing cinema from around the world; the Israeli Competition, presenting the works of Israel's next generation of filmmakers; and the Mediterranean Competition, screening films from neighboring countries.

The winners of the competitions were announced at the weeklong event's official closing ceremony on Saturday night, June 7th. Best International Film went to director Deben Van Dam for The Way of All Flesh (Belgium); Best Israeli Film was awarded to director Oren Gerner; Best Mediterranean Film went to director Bulent Ozturk for Houses with Small Windows (Turkey); and the Festival Critics Award for Israeli film went to director, screenwriter, and editor Roni Rainhartz of Sapir Academic College.

Past festival winners include young filmmakers already making names in the industry: Thomas Vinterberg, Dover Kosashvili, Francois Ozon, Alan Taylor, Jasper W. Nielsen, and Nir Bergman. The festival also featured the first screening of a short series of documentaries by Tel Aviv University students called Digital Relations, exploring interpersonal relations in the digital age through the camera lens. Another new project, Short Film Incubator, screened films by directors currently waiting to produce their first or second feature-length film.

The festival's unique Film Bus, a travelling theater that brings the short films to all parts of the country, particularly the periphery, made its third nationwide circuit this year. Israelis and students from all over the world embarked on a week-long tour in a bus fitted with a giant screen, projector, and amplification system. After the screenings, audiences across Israel were treated to Q&As with the filmmakers.

A philanthropic philosophy

The festival's chairman, Steve Tisch, has long been a leading philanthropist, and generously contributes his time and resources to a variety of organizations.

On May 29, 2014, President Barack Obama announced his gift of $10 million to the department of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA for the BrainSPORT Program, which has now been renamed the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program. It establishes the world's most advanced diagnostic and treatment program for athletes who have suffered concussions and uses the latest techniques in brain imaging, molecular biology, and neuro-engineering to understand the connection between concussions and long-term brain disease.

Other recipients of his generosity include the Epilepsy Foundation, Women's Cancer Research Foundation, and The Simon Wiesenthal Center. Tisch is on the Board of Trustees of The Geffen Theatre in Los Angeles, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Cancer Center at Duke University. He is the naming benefactor of the new sports and fitness center at his alma mater, Tufts University.


Tel Aviv University Film Wins Student Oscar

Paris on the Water named a winner in Best Foreign Film category of Student Academy Awards

Paris on the Water, the final degree project of Tel Aviv University master's film student Hadas Ayalon, is one of three winners in the foreign film category of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 41st Student Academy Awards.

This is the first time an Israeli student film has won an Oscar in the category.

At the annual ceremony, scheduled for June 7, Ayalon and two other Best Foreign Film finalists — the UK's Peter Baumann for Border Patrol and Germany's Lennart Ruff for Nocebo — will discover whether they are to receive gold, silver, or bronze awards for their films.

Paris on the Water is a 27-minute film about a once-famous actress, Batya, who after years of professional frustration finally gets a chance to make a comeback. On audition day, however, an unexpected event forces her to deal with personal issues. The film reveals Batya's internal struggle to confront her most basic priorities. It is slated to premiere at the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival, hosted by TAU's Film and Television Department in June and chaired by Hollywood producer Steve Tisch.

All award finalists have been invited by the Academy to Los Angeles to participate in a week of events in the run-up to the show. In addition to the Best Foreign Film category, student Academy Awards will also be bestowed for Narrative, Documentary, Alternative, and Animation nominees.

For more, read the Haaretz story: http://www.haaretz.com/life/movies-television/1.591175


Shhh ... Talking About Mothers in Prostitution

TAU researchers find that ambivalence prevents social workers from addressing an important social issue

When's the last time you heard prostitution and mothering mentioned in the same sentence?

Prof. Einat Peled of Tel Aviv University's Bob Shapell School of Social Work is willing to bet it wasn't recently. In a new study, Peled and her co-researcher Tal Levin-Rotberg, a social worker at the Israel Health Ministry, found that even child-protection officers, who deal with mothers in prostitution as part of their job, are ambivalent and uncomfortable talking about the issue and so may avoid addressing it.

"A very high percentage of CPOs, and social workers in general, meet women in prostitution in their work, but most do little to address child-rearing and other challenges," says Peled. "The situation is riddled with conflict, questions, and ambiguity. Prostitution, particularly in relation to mothering, is an uncomfortable topic, and people don't tend to raise issues that are uncomfortable."

The study, based on in-depth interviews with 13 female CPOs and published in Social Science Review, is part of a groundbreaking research series looking at professional attitudes toward prostitution for the first time.

Hiding in plain sight

The researchers note that the majority of women in prostitution have children, a fact borne out by a growing body of research. In a sample of 1,963 street prostitutes in New York, 69.4 percent had children, and two studies in the Midwest found that 88 percent and 91 percent of the prostitutes in those studies had children.

The reality of mothers in prostitution is a "public secret," the researchers say. In Israel, that reality is suppressed to maintain a status quo regarding prostitution resting on "masculine ethics," defined by notions of absolute rights and contracts, according to Peled. This cultural approach is reflected in Israeli law, which views prostitution as a legitimate occupation based on a contract between two consenting parties. Women have a legal right to work as prostitutes as long as pimping and soliciting are not involved.

In semi-structured interviews, the researchers found that the CPOs' dominant professional perspective reflected such masculine ethics. The officers, responsible for the welfare of disadvantaged and at-risk minors in Israel's central region, expressed support for the idea that prostitutes can be good mothers, as long as they provide their children with basic developmental needs — food, clothing, school, and supervision — and shield them from the world of prostitution.

But this perspective was complicated for the CPOs by another perspective informed by "feminine ethics," reflecting concern and caring for others, the researchers say. As the interviews progressed and became more relaxed, the CPOs increasingly expressed concerns regarding the harmful impact of prostitution on women and reservations about the raising of children in the shadow of prostitution. This view stressed additional aspects of mothering, such as psychologically supporting and protecting children and being a positive personal influence. The CPOs expressed doubt that women in prostitution could fill these roles, given the traumatic nature of their work.

Keeping mum

The researchers report that the social workers were hesitant and uncomfortable during the interviews. CPOs hastily transitioned between questions, paused heavily, became embarrassed, digressed from the subject, and used humor to diffuse tension.

Peled speculates that the clash of the two perspectives and officers' difficulty maintaining a coherent perspective is similarly responsible for the lack of professional discourse about mothering in prostitution. An officer's mixed feelings send conflicting signals to the mothers, making open discussion of the reality of raising children while working in prostitution extremely rare.

But the researchers say the interviews seemed to help the officers reconcile their thoughts and perceptions on the issue. Further dialogue within and outside the world of social work could help incorporate feminine ethics into the framework used to handle mothering in prostitution. "I believe these studies are part of what we need to do to improve our social services to women in prostitution," says Peled. She advocates more research on the attitudes of different professional and lay groups — including men — toward prostitution.


Leading Theatre Director and TAU Professor Emeritus Awarded Israel Prize

Prof. Nola Chalton is TAU's 75th Israel Prize laureate

Prof. Nola Chalton, professor emeritus of Tel Aviv University's Department of Theatre Arts at the Yolanda and David Katz Faculty of the Arts, has been awarded the 2012 Israel Prize in Performing Arts. The 75th laureate from TAU, Prof. Chalton will receive the award in a Jerusalem ceremony later this month, on the eve of Israel's Independence Day celebrations.

The state of Israel awards the prizes each year to those who have displayed excellence in their field or have had a profound impact on Israeli culture.

Prof. Chalton is being honored for the indelible mark she has left on Israel's theatrical landscape as a director, teacher, and mentor. She is credited for establishing a documentary style of theatre in Israel that confronts the country's complicated social and political realities.

Though officially retired, Prof. Chalton remains dedicated to nu

rturing generations of young actors. She continues to teach a weekly class at TAU, imparting her firm belief in the pedagogical role of the theatre by widening the horizons of her students, developing their belief in the human soul, and emphasizing their responsibility to raise social awareness by giving a voice to those who are not heard.


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