South African born Norman Lourie was a man for all seasons. Founder of Habonim, Maccabi South Africa, poet, war correspondent, pioneer film producer and finally a successful hotelier in Israel.
Norman Lourie - War correspondent and photographer
The Jewish National Fund (JNF) had a significant influence on the film industry in Palestine during the war years, funding the production of a series of movies publicising and promoting Jewish life in Palestine with the objective of encouraging Aliyah. One of the beneficiaries of JNF support was Norman Lourie, who established the Palestine Film Company, having “inherited” filming equipment left behind by other JNF funded producers who had returned to their home countries. A little snippet of news from the Jewish News of Northern California tells the story “This equipment later became the basis of Norman Lourie's company, Palestine Films, the most productive film unit of the late '40s and early '50s. The unit produced some of the most exciting and creative work in the period immediately before and after the birth of the State of Israel.”
The establishment of the Palestine Film Company was announced at a press conference held by Norman Lourie in New York and reported in a Jewish Telegraphic Agency news sheet on 24 July 1947 under the following headline :-
Formation of First Palestine Film Company
Announced by South African Film Producer
July 24, 1947
The formation of the first permanent Palestinian film corporation was announced here today by Norman Lourie, South African film producer and Jewish leader, at a press conference. Mr. Lourie hailed the formation of Palestine Films, Inc., as the beginning of a regular film industry in the country.
Norman Lourie continued, saying that the new company’s first movie, House in the Desert, produced for the United Palestine Appeal, was complete and scheduled for an early release in the United States. You can watch the 48 minute documentary by clicking on this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-ehuNS7dPQ
While the movie is in Hebrew, the credits with Norman Lourie's name are in English. The film was good enough to win First Prize at the 1948 Vienna Film Festival. I have been reliably informed by former @Telfed Chairman and Habonim luminary, @Dave Kaplan, that Norman Lourie also made a film on the early history of the Habonim movement in South Africa, which used to be regularly screened, but the only existing copy went missing, never to be found again. Should any readers have memories or any knowledge of the film, please let me have your recollections, which I hope to publish.
The true pioneer of the Palestine film industry was Belarus born Nathan Axelrod, founder of JNF funded Carmel Films, which produced some 450 newsreels between 1927 and 1958. The newsreels, which are housed in the Israel National Archives, each have a duration of between 5 and 10 minutes and provide fascinating glimpses of daily life in Mandate Palestine and later of the formative years of the State of Israel. I’ve provided links to 3 typical Carmel newsreels, all silent films, as they were made before the advent of the modern soundtrack technology we know. Considering the quality of equipment available to Axelrod at the time, the standard of the cinematography is very good.
Shortly before Norman Lourie founded Palestine Films, the JNF funded the shooting of several movies with inspiring names such as Land of Hope (1946), The Great Promise (1946/47) and Behind the Blockade (1947). The last film made before the establishment of Palestine Films was the 1947 movie, My Father’s House, which opens with poignant scenes of so called “illegal immigrants” wading through the waves after leaving the boats that had brought them as refugees from Europe to Palestine. After the completion of the movie, the producers abandoned the JNF funded equipment in Jerusalem, where it was “inherited” by Norman Lourie and Palestine Films.
You can watch the movie My Father's House on this link
Norman Lourie's first full length film, the prizewinning “House in the Desert”, an educational documentary, was screened at all the Jewish schools in the United States between 1947 and 1949. He then produced two full-length feature films with an emphasis on Jewish expectations and hopes in Palestine. While I have been unable to identify the titles of the other movies made by Palestine Films, I am still busy researching aspects of this and will fill in the missing information if and when possible.
My research has led me to David Matis (1906-1988), a Yiddish journalist and dedicated connoisseur of Jewish films who bequeathed his collection to the Stephen Spielberg Film Archive, which is dedicated to the preservation of Jewish film history. Regarding Norman Lourie's films, the Matis collection newsheet advises that “the surviving parts of Norman Lourie's Palestine Films archive, saved thanks to the vigilance of Uri Geffen, the archivist of Moshav Shavei Tzion, are currently in the early stages of processing and will help fill a large gap in the film history of the late 1940s and early 1950s.” My hope is that I will be able to obtain additional details concerning the films made by Norman Lourie, which I will then be able to make available to you.
The time needed for readers to access and enjoy the movies for which the links are included (you dont have to watch them all), have made me decide to do an additional Norman Lourie article, which will feature his poetry as well as his time as owner of the Dolphin House Hotel in Shavei Tzion. I have been fortunate to establish contact with a grandson of the hotel manager during the Norman Lourie era, and have been promised access to a unique portfolio featuring photos of many of the VIP guests who visited the hotel. The guests who stayed at Dolphin House reads like a who's who of European royalty, the political elite, famous screen artists, producers, directors, screen writers and authors. Norman Lourie Part 3 will be published on Sunday 28 June.