Filmmaker showcases her Brain Power in Israel

Bay Area filmmaker Tiffany Shlain first visited Israel 15 years ago on her honeymoon. Apparently, the honeymoon is not over.

Shlain recently went on a U.S. government-sponsored visit to Israel that had her meeting with film students and filmgoers across the country.

Tiffany Shlain in Jerusalem

Funded by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the USC School of Cinematic Arts, the American Film Showcase takes U.S. filmmakers on goodwill tours of foreign countries. Last year, Shlain visited South Africa as part of the showcase, and this year she was asked to go to the Holy Land.

“It’s a wonderful program, and honor to serve America,” the Mill Valley filmmaker said. “My films are always intended to open up dialogue and start a conversation about connectedness, so it’s such an honor to be asked to do this and be sent to these amazing places.”

Shlain’s itinerary, organized by the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, included leading a workshop in Akko, directing a seminar for 100 film students at a documentary film festival in the Galilee, and lecturing about technology and the Internet’s influence on society.

Shlain also had screenings of two of her films, “Connected: An Autobiography About Love, Death & Technology,” and “Brain Power: From Neurons to Networks,” as well as shorts from her new AOL Web series “The Future Starts Here.”

Though sharing ideas about film and technology was the hook of the trip, Shlain said she came away with deep impressions of Israel and Israelis.

“Israel is amazing,” she said. “It feels like home but it’s also very complicated. A lot of things I was wrestling with I saw other people wrestling with.”

That included everything from gender inequality in Jerusalem to the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank.

She also toured the Knesset and met with Merav Michaeli, a member of the Knesset, an outspoken feminist, and a former journalist, TV anchor and radio broadcaster.

In keeping with Shlain’s noted devotion to interactive media, during her speaking engagement at the film festival, Shlain asked her audience members what skills they felt were needed to flourish in the 21st century. Then she asked them to film themselves raising their hands, either with their phones or other devices.

“They were so creative,” she said. “At the end of the day we cut together the best shots. It was so insightful. Those will be used in a new film.”

Though largely known for her films, Shlain also is entrenched in the tech world. In 1996 she founded the Webby Awards to honor the best in Internet innovation, and in 1998 co-founded the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. From 2000 to 2003 she was the on-air Internet expert for “Good Morning America,” and last year she won the Tribeca Film Festival’s “Disruptive Innovation Award.”

So she’s no slouch when it comes to the digital world. But she is also a prominent proponent of unplugging on Shabbat.

That concept did not go over so well with some people she met in secular Tel Aviv.

After describing the concept in one artist salon there, Shlain recalled, “People said, ‘Can you really do that?’ They are so wired there, a lot of the secular people were looking at me like I was from another planet.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at