January 17, 2022

Steve Suissa discusses his French Theater Festival


Steve Suissa has a remarkable resume. A French director, producer, screenwriter and international actor, his 2000 film L’Envol (Taking Wing) earned him the Best Director Award at the 22nd Moscow International Film Festival and many additional awards. He has discovered a pool of young French talent, including Isabelle Carré, Clement Siboni, Marion Cotillard, Lorànt Deutsch, Bérénice Bejo, Titoff and Nicola Casale.

Yet Suissa, who does not speak Hebrew, is a Zionist at his essence. His goal is to bring the hearts of Israeli and French audiences closer together and display the best of French culture and theater to audiences in Israel. To this end, in 2017, he created and brought the French Theatre Festival to Israel for the first time, which introduces and presents important artists from the world of Israeli and French culture. It will run from October 27 – November 3 in Tel Aviv and Ashdod. 

For the past two years, Suissa has also served as author, producer and director of a religious program on Judaism broadcast every Sunday morning on state television in France. Suissa has established three acting and theater schools in Israel – in Tel Aviv, Ashdod and Netanya, and today he focuses primarily on imparting knowledge and education to many students.

Marking his return to Israel after a prolonged absence due to the pandemic, we met Suissa for a conversation about his attempt to strengthen cooperation and dialogue between the worlds of French and Israeli cinema and theater amidst the reality of growing antisemitism in France and hostility towards Israel.

Brahim Asloum (right) and Steve Suissa portray Jewish brothers from Tunisia who were boxers during the Holocaust in ‘Victor Young Perez.’ (credit: VERED ADIR)Brahim Asloum (right) and Steve Suissa portray Jewish brothers from Tunisia who were boxers during the Holocaust in ‘Victor Young Perez.’ (credit: VERED ADIR)

You do so much. Where does your drive come from?

I do it out of a sense of mission because acting saved my life. I think the movie culture and culture, in general, are a type of “correction” for me. I was a little boy learning boxing at the gym when I met actor Alain Delon. He looked at me and told me that I needed to learn how to act. Alain Delon and I came from a similar background. He had also studied boxing, and we connected. Via this background, we found a common language.

How has the pandemic affected your performance as an actor and creator?

During the pandemic, five of my plays were stopped, and more than 60 live performances were canceled. But it also brought a positive side. It provided new meaning to the other things that I do. I realized that the cultural bridge that I am building, such as the French theater festival I created in Israel, connects people, creates a common language of discourse and love, and can bring people together from everywhere. I realized that this was an opportunity for me to engage in things that had value and meaning. Over time, it began to feel like a mission for me.

Today you pass on your knowledge to children with limited financial resources. Can acting help children?

Definitely. To me, theater and acting are the art of healing. They have therapeutic elements of creation and of daring. On stage, we dare to do things and deal with parts within us that we do not dare to deal with in life itself. It allows you the freedom to be yourself.

Tell us about your establishment of acting schools in the country.

I established three acting schools for children in Israel called STUDIO M, in Tel Aviv, Netanya and Ashdod. I want to make it possible for children who may not have the financial resources to learn acting. I know how much it can help them and direct them to good places, to get to know and understand themselves better, as it helped me.

You are a Zionist who works for Israel a great deal. Is it related to the fact that most of your life, you have lived far from Israel?

It doesn’t come from a feeling of guilt. It is because of my experience in Israel. Six years ago, I came to Israel and produced The Diary of Anne Frank. I felt how much power there is in Israeli culture and how necessary it is, especially for the younger generation.

You created the French Theater Festival in Israel. Do you think it has the power to influence French public opinion and eradicate antisemitism?

The festival will not eliminate antisemitism, but when you bring the great artists of France to Israel, and they learn the country, travel, experience the culture and get to know the Israeli audience up close, they will return to France with a different perspective on Israel and spread it further. It has tremendous power.

What do you think about the state of the Jewish community in France today with the growing antisemitism?

I am very anxious about antisemitism in France. My contribution in this matter is to tell the stories – to bring the story of Anne Frank, of Albert Einstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Victor “Young” Perez, and now, also to tell the extraordinary story of Alfred Nakache, the swimmer from Auschwitz who was not known until the day he died. The play about him will close the French Theater Festival on November 3 in Bet Lessin, and Nakache will be portrayed by actor Amir Haddad.

They were all heroic Jewish heroes who stood the test. These are plays that hundreds of thousands of people will see and it has a big impact on me.

Tell me about the program on Judaism that appears on French television.

The program about Judaism that I edit and host is called Genesis. Prior to that, Jewish TV presenter Josy Eisenberg edited and hosted the program. After his death, French President Emmanuel Macron, the minister of the interior and the chief rabbi of the country, Rabbi Chaim Korsayi, had to decide on another candidate, and they all agreed that I was most suitable from a pedagogic standpoint. As soon as I began, I created a new concept that increased the number of weekly viewers from 200,000 to one million. This led to my hosting of the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in France every year. Last year the ceremony that was broadcast on Channel 2 broke viewing records and exceeded the viewing numbers of the annual Christmas Mass.

This year’s French Theatre Festival will run from October 27 to November 3 in Tel Aviv and Ashdod. For more information call (03) 915-5632 or visit culturaccess.com/horizon-2021-festival-du-theatre-francais/. This article was written in cooperation with the French Theatre Festival



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