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 all 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 southern-most, desert city of Eilat has been associated with swimming and sun bathing, water sports, desert adventures and night life. However, ten years from now visionaries and city planners expect Eilat to be the cultural mecca of Israel …. perhaps the whole Middle East. The idea is that visitors can use their days at the 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 the time the area was virtually unpopulated and far away by road. During the War of Independence two Israeli brigades broke by and open the road. In doing so, they also opened the 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, in addition as Canada and the United States.

According to a spokesman from the Ministry of Tourism, this past year Eilat hosted approximately 50,000 foreign visitors and with the City’s focus on culture, those numbers are expected to grow exponentially in the next few years.

Local residents are also enthusiastic about the changing personality of their city because the more new events that are produced, the more employment opportunities that arise.

Culture in Eilat

If you are looking for culture, there are now several different events to choose from in Eilat, depending on the time of the year.

The Red Sea Jazz Festival. Eilat hosted its first annual international jazz festival in 1987 and since then, it has increasingly attracted mythical and award-winning artists from around the world. Randy Brecker… Michail Alperin Trio… Blood Sweat & Tears… The border… Spyro Gyra…Chick Corea & Origin… Diana Krall…Manhattan move… The Mingus Big Band… Dianne Reeves … Zap Mama… and close to a hundred more big jazz names have all come to Eilat to perform before a continually growing audience of jazz aficionados.

This is a real music fest, with varied programs ranging from modern to traditional jazz by salsa and world music, all performed by leading bands and international stars. already the Israeli program and performers are high and different. Ten local groups performed at last year’s festival, which took place at the end of August. For seven of these groups, who represent the recent success of Israeli jazz, it was their premier performance at the festival.

One special assistance for festival attendees is the jazz master classes 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 frequently referred to as the major jazz event in the Middle East. Last year, the four-day festival attracted approximately 50,000 people and featured more than 30 concerts.

The International Film Festival. Now entering its fourth year, this four-day festival held in late May, will screen close to 50 complete-length features from around the world to an enthusiastic audience of industry experts, film fans, local residents, students and soldiers. Festival organizers say that the more than 5000 people who come to participate in the festival will see films from Israel, Japan, China, Turkey, Greece, Italy, the U.S. and more.

This year the festival is screening the children’s film “Over the Hedge”, a new film by the creators of “Shrek”, which is opening worldwide at Cannes in early May. Another new film, “Flight 93” tells the story of the third plane – the one that crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania – that was hijacked in the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Adam Greenberg, Director of Photography for well-known 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 screened on the beach about European football as a rule-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 adjudicators from the city.

Chamber Music Festival. This new international festival which took place in different halls around the city this past February, is off to a strong start according to the reviewers. The performances by iPalpiti Orchestra, YAI – Young International Artists, Ida Haendel, Concerto Köln, Evgeni Koroliov, Aviv Quartet, and Jerusalem Trio were all well received and planning is about to begin for next year’s event.

Red Sea Classical Festival. This three-day festival held in December has been described as “a myriad of musical opulence” 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 Theatre from St. Petersberg, Russia, entertained audiences of 2000 each night with his group of 280 musicians. The Mariinsky, one of the world’s most famous opera companies — is the only Russian cultural institution to survive and prosper after the fall of the Soviet Union. As a consequence, Gergiev is considered slightly of a national hero.

The classical festival was held for the first time in 1993. It was organized by the City’s Office of Tourism and “Shira,” an international cultural society. Plans are now underway for next year’s festival, which will be held at the end of December and the beginning of January. Plans for 2006 include holding one night’s performance in Aqaba, Jordan.

The International Underwater Photo Competition. Imagine photographing some of the most beautiful marine life in the world. The Underwater Photo Competition draws 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, shooting with film or digital cameras. There are two competitive categories: “Images from Around the World,” in which submissions are sent in improvement from other locations and the on-site “Eilat Shoot-Out”. 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 the master of ceremonies at the April event.

While most visitors would agree that this is a pretty comprehensive list for any one destination, tourism officials say that several new events being planned for the near future. Eilat is clearly a city on the move and, say Tourism officials, these festivals represent just a few of the ways that Eilat is becoming part of the world’s cultural community.

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