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Israelis You Should Know: Lia van Leer

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Name: Lia van Leer

Life: Aug. 8, 1924 - March 13, 2015

Known for: Lia van Leer was known as the "queen of Israeli cinema."

About her: Lia van Leer was born in what is modern day Moldova in 1924. When she was 16 years old, she traveled to Tel Aviv to visit her sister, who worked there as a dentist. While she was gone, the Germans invaded her hometown and her parents were killed by Nazis. Van Leer was devastated, and she decided not to return home. She moved to Jerusalem and attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, got married, and then settled in Haifa.

In 1955, van Leer and her husband founded Israel's first film club. They screened classic films at their home on a 16mm projector,  and soon began traveling the country, creating film clubs in local kibbutzim and communities. They established what became today’s Haifa Cinematheque, bringing films from the U.S. and Europe for screening in Haifa. The cinematheque made available to Israeli audiences the best Israeli films, classic films, and art films.

Van Leer joined the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) in 1960, helping to establish the Israeli Film Archive from her private collection of films. The FIAF now contains 50,000 films.

In the 1970s, van Leer moved to Tel Aviv and helped establish the Tel Aviv Cinematheque before moving to Jerusalem and helping establish the cinematheque there. She was named its first director, and she founded the first Jerusalem Film Festival in 1984.

In 1991, van Leer's husband died, and she created an award in his honor for high school students to encourage young filmmakers. In 1995, she was the head of the jury at the 45th Berlin International Film Festival.

Van Leer has received many awards for her work, including the Israel Prize in 2004 for her lifetime achievement and special contribution to society and the state of Israel. She passed away last month at the age of 90.

In her own words about her influence: "I didn’t think of it as a career, just something that I loved."

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