Life & Culture

Sharing the Seret of our success

The founders of the Seret film festival are celebrating ten years of showcasing the best in Israeli screen talent. Anne Joseph met them.


We were so naïve, says Odelia Haroush, co-founder and chief executive of Seret International, the Israeli film and TV festival, which celebrates its ten-year anniversary this month. “We just jumped straight in. My husband said we saw ‘the swimming pool,’ but we didn’t even check if there was water inside! It was really like that.”

At the time, Patty Hochmann, Seret’s artistic director and co-founder, was working for Cinematyp Ltd, an Israeli post production company. She laughs as she tells me she was convinced directors would give her their films for free, simply because she knew them. “I thought, they’re my friends, they’ll give me films! I now know that buying film rights is one of our biggest expenses.”

Although they learnt quickly that contacts could not be relied on, Haroush firmly believes their success is down to an unwavering, persuasive belief in what they do. When they set out, their main objective was to engage a wide audience with the richness and diversity of Israeli life and culture through its film and TV, not just Jews or Israelis but anyone with a love of film. That has remained unchanged, she says. “We really believe in the industry and want to show people what Israel is about through it.”

I first interviewed Haroush in 2012 and although, then, she admitted they had no experience of organising a film festival, her drive and enthusiasm was evident, as much as it is still today.

I’m speaking to both women via Zoom: Haroush in London (she divides her time between London and Tel Aviv) and Hochmann in Netanya. They are keen to emphasise that up until six months ago, there was also a third founder and partner, Anat Koren, who edits ALondon, a magazine for Israelis living in the UK. It was Koren — and serendipity — that brought the three of them together. An old friend of Hochmann’s from Tel Aviv University days, the two had talked for years about wanting to establish an Israeli film festival in London. Haroush also knew Koren, as they had worked together when Haroush was UK marketing manager of Ahava and manager of its shop in Covent Garden. When the shop closed in 2011, Haroush approached her about setting up a festival and Koren suggested she went to Israel to meet with Hochmann. “Anat said, if you click, let’s do it together. And I went — I still remember the place where we met — came back and said, ‘let’s do it.’”

Over the past decade, there has been much discussion about Israel’s so-called Golden Age of cinema and TV, due to its significant contribution to the global market. “It’s ongoing,” says Hochmann. “It gets better and better, especially television. A few years ago, Katriel Schory [the former director of the Israeli Film Fund] told us that the industry is successful partly because of Israeli society’s diverse culture, but also because of its can-do attitude. If Israelis want to do something, we do it now; yesterday, maybe. And that’s very unique to Israel.” Many countries like to collaborate with Israeli producers because they are very innovative, adds Haroush. “A film made in the US might have four months of filming, whereas in Israel, you have three or four weeks. You don’t have the money or the budget. You just do it.”

There has been a shift in the type of stories that filmmakers tell, they say. “Fifteen years ago, many Israeli films were about conflict, either the political conflict or the tensions between the religious and secular communities,” explains Haroush, whereas now, the content is more universal, about relationships, LGBT+ and the family.

Seret quickly expanded internationally, beginning in Amsterdam in 2015, where Haroush had relocated because of her husband’s job. The festival came about out of “boredom,” she says, but the experience showed her the potential of developing Seret, and a festival in Berlin soon followed and then Santiago in Chile, where Hochmann was born. “For me, not only was it a dream come true,” Hochmann says, “But it was also a challenge to work on because of the time difference.”

Seret now has a presence in other cities in the Netherlands and Germany, as well as in the UK, and growing the festival has been made easier with the use of their own virtual online platform. That said, they are keen to collaborate with other groups, where possible, and reach new audiences. What about approaching the Palestine film festival, I suggest? “I think it’s a great idea,” says Haroush, “We never thought about it, actually.”

The conversation inevitably turns to BDS, by which Seret has, over the years, been affected. “Demonstrations aren’t always connected to the films, but to the festival itself,” Haroush says. Nor are they confined to London, and also take place in Europe.

Both women have an air of resignation about the situation, but it obviously bothers them. “A lot,” says Haroush. “But I’m not anxious about it. I hate that we have to deal with these kinds of issues, and we don’t want them to happen, but I know I can, and will, deal with it. It actually makes me want to do the festival even more.”

Hochmann recalls that when they first set out, the other two women had told her there would be demonstrations. She had been shocked and could not understand it. “I was really, really afraid. But, as the years have gone on and if there is just the odd one, I think, don’t they like us any more? Why don’t they come?!”

Although events in the Middle East affect the intensity of the cultural boycott, the most recent conflict has not impacted their preparations or programming, other than increased security.

This year’s hybrid festival promises to be as broad and entertaining as ever, with an Israeli Prime Ministers’ documentary strand and a selection of popular films shown in the past, including Fill the Void and Tel Aviv on Fire. There is also 100 Meters Apart, four short films which were made during the pandemic.

Do they have plans for Seret, for the next ten years? Both women laugh before Haroush replies. “Every five years, Patty tells me, OK, I’ll do it for another five years! We are trying to expand in the countries we’re in, but most of all, we’d like to continue to do what we do with love and with passion.”


UK Seret International Festival runs June 21-28

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