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Eilat’s Cultural Evolution
If you were looking for the best jazz and classical music, or the newest independent films playing in the Middle East, Eilat might not be the first place you looked. But that is about to change if the city of Eilat, the Ministries of Culture and Tourism and the Eilat Hotel Association have their way.
Since the early days of modern Israel, the southernmost desert city of Eilat has been associated with swimming and sunbathing, water sports, desert adventures and nightlife. Yet ten years later, visionaries and city planners expect Eilat to be the cultural mecca of Israel… perhaps the entire Middle East. The idea is that visitors can spend their days at sea and their evenings enjoying the various cultural offerings of the city.
While there have always been some residents in the south, Eilat was established in 1949. At that time the area was practically unpopulated and inaccessible by road. During the War of Independence two Israeli brigades broke through and opened the road. In doing so, they also opened a window of opportunity.
The city developed steadily over the years. In 1975 the first international charter flights from Europe began and tourism really took off. Today, Eilat is a popular destination for visitors from France, England, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Russia, as well as Canada and the United States.
According to a Ministry of Tourism spokesperson, last year Eilat hosted approximately 50,000 foreign visitors, and with the city’s focus on culture, these numbers are expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.
Local residents are also enthusiastic about changing the personality of their city, because the more new events are created, the more employment opportunities are created.
Culture in Eilat
If you’re looking for culture, there are now several different events to choose from in Eilat, depending on the time of year.
Red Sea Jazz Festival. Eilat hosted its first annual international jazz festival in 1987 and since then, it has attracted more and more legendary and award-winning artists from around the world. Randy Brecker… Michail Alperin Trio… Blood Sweat & Tears… The Fringe… Spyro Gyra… Chick Corea & Origin… Diana Krall…Manhattan Transfer… The Mingus Big Band. .. Dianne Reeves… Zap Mama… and nearly a hundred other great jazz names have all come to Eilat to perform in front of an ever-growing audience of jazz lovers.
This is a real music festival, with a varied program ranging from modern jazz to traditional, salsa and world music, all performed by top bands and international stars. The Israeli program and performers are also rich and varied. Ten local bands performed at last year’s festival, which was held in late August. For seven of these groups, who represent the recent success of Israeli jazz, it was their main performance at the festival.
A special benefit for festival attendees are the jazz masterclasses led by internationally renowned jazz musicians that offer music students an excellent, one-on-one opportunity to meet artists, learn from them and practice together.
The festival is now often cited as the premier jazz event in the Middle East. Last year, the four-day festival attracted around 50,000 people and featured more than 30 concerts.
International Film Festival. Now entering its fourth year, this four-day festival held at the end of May will showcase close to 50 feature films from around the world to an enthusiastic audience of industry experts, film buffs, local residents , students and soldiers. Festival organizers say the more than 5,000 people expected to attend the festival will see films from Israel, Japan, China, Turkey, Greece, Italy, the US and more.
This year’s festival will feature children’s film “Over the Hedge,” a new film from the makers of “Shrek,” which opens worldwide at Cannes in early May. Another new film, “Flight 93” tells the story of the third plane – the one that crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania – that was hijacked in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Adam Greenberg, Director of Photography for films such as “Dave” and “The Terminator” will be on hand to receive a lifetime achievement award. There will also be a series of 44 short films to be screened on the beach about European football, as a lead-up to this year’s World Cup in Germany.
Awards will be given in three categories: Best Foreign Film, Best Israeli Film and Best Children’s Film, which will be judged by a panel of young judges from the city.
Chamber Music Festival. This new international festival, which took place in various halls of the city last February, is off to a strong start, according to reviewers. Performances by iPalpiti Orchestra, YAI – Young Artists International, Ida Haendel, Concerto Köln, Evgeni Koroliov, Aviv Quartet and Jerusalem Trio were all well received and planning will begin for next year’s event.
Red Sea Classic Festival. This three-day festival held in December has been described as “a wealth of musical riches” with its spectacular orchestras, guest singers and musicians – some of the brightest talent from around the world. This pasta year, Valery Gergiev, artistic director and conductor of the Kirov Mariinsky Theater from St. Petersburg, Russia, entertained audiences of 2,000 people each night with his band of 280 musicians. The Mariinsky, one of the world’s most famous opera companies — is the only Russian cultural institution that survived and thrived after the fall of the Soviet Union. As a result, Gergiev is somewhat regarded as a national hero.
The classical festival was held for the first time in 1993. It was organized by the City Tourism Office and “Shira”, an international cultural society. Plans are now being made for next year’s festival, which will be held in late December and early January. Plans for 2006 include holding a one-night performance in Aqaba, Jordan.
International Underwater Photography Competition. Imagine photographing some of the world’s most beautiful marine life. The underwater photography competition attracts many famous international divers and photographers – not only because of the beauty of the Red Sea, but also because of the $25,000 purse for the first place prize winner. The competition is open to both amateurs and professionals, who shoot with film or digital cameras. There are two competitive categories: “Images from around the world”, in which submissions are sent in advance from other countries, and the “Eilat Shoot-Out” in the country. All entries are judged by an international panel.
This year, internationally renowned, award-winning photographer and explorer Amos Nachoum will be the guest of honor and master of ceremonies at the April event.
While most visitors would agree that this is a fairly comprehensive list for each destination, tourism officials say that several new events are planned for the near future. Eilat is definitely a city on the move and, tourism officials say, these festivals represent just a few of the ways Eilat is becoming part of the global cultural community.
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