This month, AWFJ’s Spotlight is focused on Lia Van Leer, the extraordinarily accomplished, influential and beloved cinema programmer and cultural provocateur who has has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to promote filmmaking and film appreciation in Isreal and around the world. Lia Van Leer celebrates her 90th birthday this month, and we celebrate her! Read on…
For almost six decades, Lia Van Leer has played one of the leading roles in Israeli — and international — cinema. She is her country’s cutting edge cultural animator, and her extraordinary list of accomplishments includes the establishment of the famed Israeli Film Archive (in 1960), the founding of the renown Jerusalem Cinematheque (in 1981) and of the acclaimed Jerusalem Film Festival (in 1984). Much of Van Leer’s career is chronicled in the 2011 documentary Lia, directed by Tali Goldenberg.
At age 90, Van Leer still goes to work at the Jerusalem Cinematheque every day! She attends Jerusalem Film Festival screenings and events every year. She says she loves and is committed to her work and will never fully retire!
Van Leer came to her career in cinema by chance rather than by design. After attending the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, she married Wim Van Leer, a Dutch engineer and pilot, and the couple settled in Haifa. Lia and Wim shared a passion for cinema and in 1955 they began Israel’s first cinema club, using a 16 mm projector they’d received as a gift to screen films in their home in Haifa. An invitation to a Van Leer screening quickly became the hottest ticket in town. The Van Leers introduced club members to cutting edge films from around the world as well as the best Israeli films.
The films the Van Leers collected for screening in their home and at the Haifa Cinematheque were the first to be donated to the Israeli Film Archive, which like the Cinematheque, was borne of Lia’s labor and inspiration.
On Lia’s initiative, funding for the Jerusalem Cinematheque was raised from international contributors, including Brazilian businessman George Ostrovsky and a number of Hollywood honchos. Lia, named the Jerusalem Cinematheque’s first director, became a major player in the international film arena, programming films from around the world for release in Israel, and advising foreign festival programmers and distributors about trends and successes in Israeli cinema. Lia’s influence in cinema has been recognized around the world. She’s served as a juror at many of the world’s most prestigious film festivals, and programmers from around the globe call on her for advice.
After her husband died in 1991, Lia established the Wim Van Leer Award for High School Students, intended to encourage young filmmakers to pursue their craft. In its first year, eight films were submitted for the award. In 2008, the year Lia officially stepped down from her leadership positions at the Jerusalem Cinematheque and Jerusalem Film Festival, which is held annually at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, there were 90 films submitted for the Wim Van Leer prize.
Why We Chose her:
At a time when the world is beset by cultural clashes and outbreaks of violence predicated by prejudice — in Israel and Gaza, and elsewhere around the globe — Lia Van Leer has created cross cultural dialogue through the fine medium of cinema. In the movie venues she’s created, people can come together to contemplate what life is all about, to share laughter and tears, to overcome enmity and enhance mutual understanding.
Thank you Lia Van Leer for all you’ve done for the art of the moving image. You are the undisputed queen of Israeli cinema, but the realm of your influence extends way beyond your country’s borders. The Alliance of Women Film Journalists salutes you and celebrates you. Happy birthday, and best wishes for a wonderful year to come.