Micha Shagrir was a leading Israeli filmmaker. He was a director, producer and screenwriter about whom it can be said, “I am a man, and all that is human is not foreign to me”. His cinematic oeuvre encompasses much of the human experience and runs through tens of films, beginning with his first film “The Scouting Patrol” from 1966, which he directed and produced. His films earned great exposure and won festival prizes as well as being broadcast in Israel and abroad.
Shagrir was born in Linz, Austria to Vali and Karl Schweger who were Zionists and immigrated in 1938 to Kibbutz Hefzibah in pre-state Israel. They moved to Tel Aviv in 1943 and that is where Shagrir attended elementary school and was active in the HaShomer HaTzair youth movement. In 1951, the family moved to Holon where Shagrir went to high school. At age 18, he moved to Kibbutz Harel where he was a semi-trailer driver and the editor of the kibbutz newspaper. A year later, he was drafted to the paratroopers, but his military service was cut short because of injury. He was sent back to kibbutz, and then onto work at the Kibbutz Movement newspaper, and after a year was accepted to Kol Yisrael, Israeli radio. He moved to Jerusalem in 1960 and continued to live there until his death in February 2015. Shagrir was the field correspondent for Israel Radio and worked as an editor for the weekly newsreel. During the Six Day War, he served as the field correspondent for IDF Radio. Prior to that he was sent to London to take part in a course at the BBC for television production and was among those who help set up Israeli television broadcasting. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he was the director of IDF Radio in the Suez Canal. Shagrir was an independent producer and director since 1964 and for 20 years ran Castel Communications, which was one of the largest productions companies in Israel, focusing primarily on documentaries and which produced hundreds of films by leading documentary filmmakers.
In 2015, Micha Shagrir celebrated 50 years of work in the field of TV and film. The first film he took part in, as a screenwriter, and assistant director was the Natan Gross film “The Knesset” from 1965, which was produced as the Knesset was moving to its new location. In the five decades since, Micha Shagrir directed more than 70 news reports for Israel Channel One, in addition to directing and producing tens of documentaries, fiction films and dramas. Among the films that he directed are “The Scouting Patrol”, “The War After the War”, “Short Films Along the Long Border”, “Diary of an Egyptian Soldier”, “We Could Have Had Another Land”, “Ammunition Hill Take 3”, “Shai Agnon”, “Bishopstrasse”, “Tour de Finaly”, “Eye Witness 60 Years” and “Just Like the Queen of England”. Among the films he has produced are “Avanti Popolo”, “The Mark of Cain”, “BBQ People”, and “A Matter of Size”. He also created and produced a number of successful TV series such as “Bat Yam New York”, “Kinneret’s Secrets”, “Take Away” in addition to made for TV movies such as “Snow Man” and “On the Line”. Among his many documentary films are “Burnt”, “Gold for Yehuda”, “Moments Jerusalem”, “The Face of the Nation”, “When Israel Went Out”, “The Phoenixes”, “Windmill in Jerusalem”, “The Escape”, “The Hungarian Cube”, “Names in the Desert” and many others. One of his last films, “Apollonia”, which tells the story of the former Mossad agent Victor Grayevsky, was produced for IBA Israeli Television and had its premiere at the 2014 Haifa International Film Festival.
His cinematic oeuvre lovingly touches the many faces of Israeli society with an emphasis on “the other Israel”: Holocaust survivors, war victims, Ethiopian Israelis. His films about individuals and groups were made with wisdom and pathos and allow for the voice of a weakened population to be heard. Among these are his films that deal with the Ethiopian immigration to Israel; locating Jews in Ethiopia and preparing them for their journey to Israel. Shot during the 1960’s and 70’s are his films “Operation Moses” (1980) and “Operation Solomon” (1991). These films follow the process of bringing so many people to Israel and then the progression of their absorption here.
Along with his extensive work as producer and director, from time to time Shagrir also acted in a few films, including as a truck driver in the 1966 Hollywood film “Cast a Giant Shadow” alongside the great Kirk Douglas, and in “Two Fingers from Sidon” (1996) where he plays a concerned father to a son serving in Lebanon.
Micha Shagrir also won quite a few awards during his career: He is the recipient of the Department of Culture Cinematic Arts Award 2010, Life Time Achievement Award at the Jerusalem International Film Festival 2005, National Lottery Cinema Award 2009, Documentary Forum Life Achievement Award 2014, and more. Among his award-winning films are “Signed up for Life” (directed by Uri Barabash) which won the 1980 David’s Harp Award for drama, “Avanti Popolo”, directed by Raffi Bukai which won the Golden Leopard Award at the Locarno Film Festival as well as the Critics Award in 1986, the TV series “Bat Yam New York” (directed by David Ofek and Yossi Madmoni) which won the Israel TV Academy award for Best Drama in 1996, “Mom’s First Olympics” (directed by Ran Carmeli) which won the Israeli Academy Award-Ophir Prize for best documentary in 1998, and “Keneret’s Secrets” (directed by Omri Levi) which took first place in the television dramas category at the 2000 San Francisco Film Festival.
In 1980, Shagrir established the Aliza Shagrir Memorial Fund, which for the past 35 years has been supporting young filmmakers with their first film. Among those whom the fund has assisted are Shemi Zarchin, Dina Zvi-Riklis, Ran Tal, Dan Geva and many others. It is in this spirit that Micha also served as “midwife” to important Israeli feature films such as Uri Barabash’s “The Mark of Cain”, Rafi Bukai’s masterful “Avanti Popolo” and David Ofek and Yossi Madmoni’s first film “The Barbeque People”.
Along with all this, Micha Shagrir was always socially active. He was among the founders of the Sam Spiegel Film School and served as its first chair of the board between 1989-1995. He was the CEO of the Israeli Film Fund in 1999 and the Chair of the Israeli Khan Theater from 2003-2008. Shagrir initiated the international section “Neighbors” at the Haifa International Film Festival and served as the Chair of the educational foundation “Efshar”. Shagrir also held an important role in his capacity as content advisor to the “Phoenixes Foundation” which was established to support films about Holocaust survivors who have made invaluable contributions to Israeli society.
Micha Shagrir was one of the most significant and prolific Israeli filmmakers. Both as director and as producer, his life is intertwined with Israel’s vistas, just as the landscape is woven into Micha. His work has always been persistent, modest and done with a loving eye. His rich film and television work serves a sort of “photo album” of Israeli life from the 1960’s until this very day.
Prof. Judd Ne’eman, Tel Aviv University
Department of Film and Television, director and filmmaker