Filmmaking in Israel can be traced to the early twentieth century with the documentation of the land by solitary pioneers, such as Murray Rosenberg's The First Film of Palestine (1911) and Ya'acov Ben-Dov's The Awakening Land of Israel (1923). Commissioned by Zionist organizations, these films were screened in front of Jewish communities worldwide. They showed an embellished image of the land, emphasizing its redemption by the Zionist movement by beginning with images of ruined Jewish historical sites in a desolated land and culminating in lively images of new towns in the Jewish yishuv (settlement).

The more prolific filmmaking of the 1930s focused upon Jews who had shed their Diaspora "nonproductive" way of life in favor of communal life and agricultural labor, reflecting the predominance of Zionist socialism. The major filmmakers of this period, such as Baruch Agadati (1894–1976) and Nathan Axelrod, were Russian-Jewish immigrants strongly influenced by Russia's October Revolution (1917). Agadati's This Is the Land (1933) is dynamically structured along the lines of the montage sequences of Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein, contrasting an arid past to a present filled with a vast multitude of Jews, of industrial plants working at full steam, culminating in a call to leave the cities in favor of collective agricultural work on the kibbutz. Axelrod's travelogue Oded the Wanderer (1933) emphasizes the social and material progress that the Zionist socialist project has brought to the region. This theme also dominates Aleksander Ford's (1908–1980) Sabra (1933), which deals with a drought that sparks an escalating conflict over water between a socialist Jewish commune and an Arab tribe headed by a despotic sheikh. The conflict is resolved when water gushes from the Jews' well for the benefit of all, and is followed by a Soviet-styled epilogue showing tractors ploughing the land, superimposed with the silhouettes of agricultural workers marching toward a utopian future.

Following World War II, the Holocaust became a major theme in the cinematic forging of national identity, by presenting Israel as the last haven for persecuted Jews (while later presenting the state as besieged and facing annihilation). These films, aimed at justifying the need for a Jewish state following the Nazi atrocities, were invariably concerned with the integration of the recently arrived immigrants through their transformation by working the land within a collective. Earth (Helmer Lerski, 1946), for example, offers a plethora of images panning an open and fertile land that enfolds the protagonists, infusing in them a sense of liberation from the terrifying past of the ghettoes and death camps still resonating in their minds.

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