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  Haaretz >>   


Renen Schorr, a director, screenwriter, producer and teacher, has been influential in the Israeli film industry for many years. He helped establish several film funds and served as the coordinator of the film program at the Beit Zvi School of the Performing Arts.
In 1989, he was chosen to set up the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem, which he runs to this day. He has directed the feature films “Late Summer Blues” ‏(1987‏) and “The Loners” ‏(“Habodedim”‏) ‏(2009‏), and the Sam Spiegel School under his direction has become one of Israel’s leading film schools. On Sunday, a list of the 31 films that will take part in the Israeli film-students’ competition was published. Only one from the Sam Spiegel School was included. The competition opens in Tel Aviv in about month.

Renen Schorr, are you pleased with the Sam Spiegel School’s accomplishments over the past year?

The school’s 20th year is the year we received the most kudos for our films and endeavors. In the past year, in seven film festivals in Israel, including the Haifa, Jerusalem and DocAviv festivals, students from the school won six first prizes and honorable mentions. Over the past year, a film by Spiegel graduate Shai Miedzinski, “Hayerida,” won second place at a competition in Berlin.

In the past year, we made it into the Cannes Film Festival for the third straight year. The film “First Aid” by Yarden Carmin is the first Israeli short film to compete for the Golden Palm award. In the past year, one of our graduates, Yael Kayam, won an artist-in-residence scholarship in Paris and a scriptwriter fellowship at the Berlin Festival. And graduate Talya Lavie was invited to the scriptwriting workshop at Sundance. In the past year, the school had 15 retrospectives at festivals around the world. I hope for more years like this.

Sam Spiegel is considered one of Israel’s leading film schools. How is it that only one film of yours is taking part this year in the Israeli film-students’ competition?

The Tel Aviv Student Film Festival takes place once every two years, and it has two sections. In the international competition, only four Israeli schools can submit films and two of our films were accepted − “Siyur Mudrakh” ‏(“Guided Tour”‏) by Benjamin Friedenberg and “Diploma” by Yael Kayam, which took third place in Cannes. I would be surprised if in the international competition there is a school that gets more films in than us.

We sent five films to the Israel competition, and to our surprise, only one film was accepted. It seems a puzzling decision to me by the judges panel, which consists of students from all the film schools and four impartial lectors.

I disagree with the festival’s directors and Tel Aviv University film department about the format of this panel, which hurts us. I assume that of the 20 students on it, around a third were not accepted to Sam Spiegel, a third are envious of Sam Spiegel’s students and a third are free of any bias. We can only hope that in the coming years this competition will merit having a worthy judges panel. I suggest that students make up a smaller component of it, and film people from Israel and around the world be invited to judge in our frightening local swamp.

Several months ago, your film “The Loners” was released. Did the fact that you run Sam Spiegel affect the way the film was received?

Yes. I think that some critics reviewed the film in an irrelevant way, to put it lightly. To me that was a sad thing. But something really disturbed me. The film had a large audience − more than 5,000 people − at advanced screenings across the country, and based on their reactions we had a feeling that the film would draw an audience. But unfortunately, from the start, people didn’t come to see the film.

I really have a hard time with that because I see the audience as an accurate and important reflection of a director’s efforts. Even though I stand behind the film and know that many hundreds of people liked it and were moved by it, I feel a certain sense of failure. I have to live with this and learn from this failure. I tell my colleagues that I failed and they convince me that this isn’t the case, but as far as I’m concerned there’s something here I have to figure out. Apparently, I’ll figure it out in the future in a new film.

Some people refer to a “Sam Spiegel style.” Is there one?

Yes, and I’m proud of it. I think that the school’s students ask the right questions that a filmmaker should deal with. Among them are, “Why am I making the film, and what should I invest a year of my anxieties, energies, dreams and money in?” In this way students set out with raw materials that are meaningful. From there, the school’s filmmaking process begins. We ask that each film have a structure, a one-off hero, realistic logic − even if the film is fantastical − and that the films be bound by time, in the genre of short films.

When the school was established, Israeli short film did not have a language. Sam Spiegel created the language of the Israeli short film, not only because it created a method, but also because in one fell swoop it created a mass that led to quality, nurtured filmmakers and marketed the creations in Israel and abroad. The film school that preceded Sam Spiegel [the Tel Aviv University film department] copied the essence of our method, including the production and marketing methods. And even schools established after us have been influenced by us.

The school’s model − which focuses on human and humanitarian filmmaking, and therefore also emotional filmmaking − has reverberated widely. And the esteem with which the school is viewed around the world is a direct result of this. But there is no formula for creating a film at Sam Spiegel. We work using the voice of the student, and every student is different. The moment an artistic and qualitative mainstream is defined, it is also possible to create an alternative. Some of the school’s most successful films recently including “Dimayon” and “Siyur Mudrakh” are open from a narrative perspective.

You have been running the school for more than 20 years. Do you plan to continue doing so or are you thinking about other directions?

Every morning I ask myself if I am still relevant to the school.
View complete news list >>
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Dana Blankstein Cohen has taken over as the new director of the Jerusalem Sam Spiegel Film School
Fourth annual Bloom/Spiegel Seminar was a great success
Listening In, by Omer Sternberg, was highly praised at the 2020 Berlinale
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