From sexploitation to Samurais
Israeli filmmaker Guy Moshe's first effort dealt with child prostitution in Cambodia. He reveals to Haaretz how he signed Demi Moore to his next project.
In faraway Cambodia, beyond the confines of most Israelis, shocking incidents of child prostitution are taking place. This is the subject of Guy Moshe's first film, "Holly," which will make its Israeli premiere today at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
"A few hours after I landed in Cambodia, I was offered the opportunity to sleep with an 11-year-old girl for five dollars," the Israeli director recalls in a phone conversation from his Los Angeles home. "Something inside of me burst. A 12-hour flight from here, 4-year-olds are forced to perform oral sex 10 times a day for three dollars. And it seems the world is completely uninterested in this phenomenon."
"Holly," which was released in the United States in 2006 and is based on a screenplay by Guy Jacobson, tells the story of an American (Ron Livingston, "The Time Traveler's Wife") who meets a 12-year-old Vietnamese girl whose family sold her into prostitution in Cambodia. A friendship develops between the two and he decides to rescue her from her fate.
While "Holly" was being shot, Jacobson also filmed the documentary "Redlight," with co-director Adi Ezroni, which similarly addresses the sexual exploitation of Cambodian children. "Redlight" will be screened at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on January 3, with Jacobson and Ezroni set to attend.
Riddled with obstacles
Shooting "Holly" was riddled with obstacles. Child traffickers threatened the crew and tried to shut down filming. Bribery turned out to be the only way to move forward. "We were surrounded by 20-30 armed guards who protected us," Moshe says. "Every day we smuggled the film to Thailand, because people tried to confiscate it. It's a miracle that we finished this film."
"I'm proud of the project, which is more social than it is cinematic," he continues. "I put the 'how' to do it on the side, and instead focused on the content and the message. The film got favorable reviews, but had a difficult time breaking out. It's a subject impossible to clean up and turn into something fun."
Moshe also had a hard time enlisting actors. "We needed an actor to travel to Cambodia to shoot a low-budget film, work with a girl who is not a professional actress, guided by a director making his first film," he explains. "There was chemistry between actor Ron Livingston and myself from the very start. He was an amazing partner, almost like my right hand. I cast Tom Sizemore in one of the supporting roles, but he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Chris Penn replaced him at the last minute, and then it turned out he was also addicted [the actor, also Sean Penn's brother, died around a year after the filming was completed]."
How did you cast the role of the girl?
"It was clear to me from the start that we had to find someone whose face would reflect what this country does to people, in whose eyes you could see the difficulties of life there. We found the star of the film, Thuy Nguyen, at the last minute in the Vietnamese immigrant community in Los Angeles. I worked with her, along with an acting teacher. When we arrived in Cambodia, she was the most prepared actress on set."
To help the actors get a feel for just how difficult the situation in Cambodia is, Moshe sent Livingston and Nguyen off in an open rickshaw to have lunch. "Everyone was eyeing them, thinking they were a client and a prostitute," he says. "The looks cast in their direction helped them grasp what young girls forced into prostitution go through. Nguyen also met with girls who worked in this business."
On to spaghetti westerns
Moshe, 35, married and with two children, grew up in Ramat Hasharon. In 1997, he went to study film and philosophy at Hunter College in New York. "I registered for the film department at Tel Aviv University," he recalls, "but at the last minute I realized that I wouldn't be able to make the films I wanted to in Israel - mainly because of the visual challenge and budgets."
In 2001, after his final project film for Hunter was screened at festivals in the United States, Moshe decided to move to Los Angeles, taking with him two artistic scripts he'd dreamt of selling to production companies as well as directing. The plans did not materialize and even the screenplays he worked on there were not turned into films.
However, doors in the city surprisingly opened to him rather quickly. "I broke through thanks to friends of friends," he says. Moshe is now finishing work on his second film, "Bunraku," which stars Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore and will be released in 2010. "I sold the script for 'Bunraku' to a production company," he says. "When it became clear that they would not film it, I bought it back."
In the film, Harrelson and Moore play a couple who rule a small town. "They really liked 'Holly' and responded immediately to the 'Bunraku' script," Moshe says, explaining how he managed to sign two international stars onto an experimental film.
Unlike the realistic style of "Holly," "Bunraku" (influenced by the Japanese theatrical art of the same name) was filmed on a stage with a blue screen, with animation added in afterwards. Its budget was bigger than that of "Holly," and its style flirts with Samurai films, spaghetti westerns and film noir.
Do you think you'll come back to Israel to shoot a film?
"I'd be happy to, but I don't want to court the film funds. I'd rather come with a vision for a big film about Israeli-ness."