Yael Melamede is First Israeli to Produce Oscar Winning Film INOCENTE
In a year of acclaimed documentary films about the Middle East, Yael Melamede has achieved an unusual distinction: she is the first Israeli in the history of the Academy Awards to produce an Oscar-winning movie - INOCENTE.
INOCENTE, which took the Oscar for best documentary short on February 25, is not about the Middle East. Its subject is a homeless teenager from San Diego with an outsize personality and an extraordinary artistic talent.
"We've seen such extraordinary work out of Israel in the past few years, films like FOOTNOTE, THE GATEKEEPERS and FIVE BROKEN CAMERAS, which attest to the creativity and urgency of artistic voices in the region," Melamede said. "I'm honored to be the first Israeli producer of an Oscar-winning movie, but I know I won't be the last."
Melamede was born and raised in New York City, and her parents are both Israeli - her mother is a renowned architect who designed Israel's Supreme Court building and her father was a businessman and former Israeli Air Force pilot - a veteran of the Six Day War. Melamede has produced both documentaries and independent feature projects covering an eclectic range of topics.
"Like many people from the Middle East, I straddle multiple cultures," Melamede said. "Though our work covers many varied topics and places, my choices are always informed by who I am and where I'm from."
INOCENTE began as a project about homeless teens, which Melamede embarked on with the directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine. The 40-minute film, which charts Inocente Izucar's extraordinary life story, aired on MTV, receiving widespread media attention and rave reviews, and was screened to select audiences everywhere from Hollywood to Capitol Hill. Glamour Magazine called the film "insanely inspiring". Another of INOCENTE's distinctions is to have been the first Oscar winner financed in part by an online Kickstarter campaign.
Melamede's first foray into documentaries - MY ARCHITECT - was nominated for an Academy Award in 2004. It tells the story of the famous but elusive architect Louis Kahn through the eyes of his son Nathaniel. In addition to designing some projects in Israel, Kahn designed two buildings at Yale University, where Melamede was herself an architecture student; it was the perfect vehicle for Melamede's transition from architect to filmmaker. In 2003, Melamede and Eva Kolodner founded SALTY Features, with the goal of making "salty" films - films that were neither sweet nor sour, films that would enhance the world.
Among Melamede's current projects is a reality television series being developed with Morgan Spurlock entitled BAD HABITS, inspired by the work of the acclaimed Israeli American behavioral economist and bestselling author Dan Ariely. Ariely's work is also the impetus for Melamede's directorial debut, a feature documentary entitled SLIPPERY SLOPES about dishonesty, currently in production. Melamede hopes to film her passion project in Israel in the coming year- the adaptation of Amy Wilentz's best-selling novel MARTYR'S CROSSING, which delves into the harrowing personal struggles that result from the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Melamede was an Executive Producer on WHEN I WALK, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year. It chronicles a filmmaker's difficult journey with multiple sclerosis and the incredible love story that comes into his life along the way. SALTY and Melamede's latest film, DESERT RUNNERS, is about to start the festival circuit. The film follows four non professional runners who attempt to run four ultra marathons in one year (150 miles each) through some of the most treacherous desert terrains in the world.
"A friend and colleague recently told me that I seem to be drawn to stories about people doing the impossible," remarked Melamede. "I had never thought about it that way but it's true. I am a fervent idealist and realist and a lot of that comes from my particular Israeli background. I dream of being back in the running for an Academy Award, perhaps with a film from Israel!"