Slice of Sderot life - and death
In his film 'Edges,' airing tonight, Tal Avitan offers a personal take on parental suicide.
There is a lot of festivity in the family scene that opens the film, "Edges." Three of the brothers are smiling; another, who looks ill, congratulates his mother on her birthday; and the person holding the camera, director Tal Avitan, asks everyone to say something to Mom.
But the joy does not last, and the gruesome reality of this family's life is then presented without any efforts to prettify it. Meanwhile, Avitan narrates dryly: That scene was filmed just after his father committed suicide in jail. Three years later, Avitan started working on his film.
What happens when a parent commits suicide - that's the big question hovering over "Edges," Avitan's final project at Sapir College, which will air tonight on Yes Docu and won the Aliza Shagrir documentary prize in 2009. In it he delves into the heart of the family dynamic, documenting moments of happiness but also great misery. It seems he does not want to take pity on any member of the family.
After the suicide, he relates, his brother Shlomi, the oldest child and a drug addict, tried to kill himself; he then went to jail, stopped using drugs and escaped home in Sderot by moving to Jerusalem. Another brother changes his name from Guy to Amnon, and flees to an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva. The two youngest, Or and Shai, go a religious boarding school in Bnei Brak. The mother, Aliza, appears for the most of the film tortured and helpless, unable to raise her children.
Avitan, today 28, also attended boarding schools, but returned to Sderot. His camera mercilessly documented events in the life of his family.
"For me a camera is natural," he explains. "Since I stopped dreaming of becoming a soccer player, at 17, the camera has been in my hands. I always wanted to film my younger brothers, but didn't want to deal with Shlomi. I didn't want a part in making his situation worse; I wanted him to succeed."
A lecturer convinced Avitan to include Shlomi as well. Since then, his life and that of the entire family has changed - much of it in front of the camera.
Were you torn about what to film and what not to film?
Avitan: "If I want to tell a story about others, I have to be willing to expose myself. When I decided to film Shlomi, I realized I'd have to tell about Dad's suicide, even though my younger brothers didn't know that was how he died. Only at the end of the process did I muster the nerve to utter the word 'suicide.'"
How did your family react to the film?
"Or and Shai saw it at home, and we talked about what they didn't know. My mother was pleased; she had bought my first camera. As for Shlomi ..." Avitan hesitates. At the end of the film, the two argue. Shlomi goes back to drugs, while Tal distances himself and his siblings from the older brother.
Today Avitan is married and has two children. He screens and lectures on "Edges" in various forums, teaches film in Petah Tikva, and directs informational films. He plans to create a local interview program for the Web, and to pursue other film and television projects from his Sderot home. His decision to remain there is not self-evident. After his father committed suicide, he began looking after his younger brothers, "but I didn't think I'd go back to Sderot. I wanted to live in America. But life dictated otherwise ... I was compelled, lovingly, to assume responsibility. The period during which I began my film studies was a dark one: Qassams and Shlomi, who was in a terrible situation. Today things look different."
Because of his responsibilities, also reflected in the film, Shlomi began calling Tal the "head of the family."
"It's like the story of Jacob and Esau," Avitan muses. "Until 18, he was the big brother who helped support the family and provide pocket money. He felt I took away his firstborn status when he was stoned and in jail."
Will your next project also be associated with your personal life?
"I look for realism, and the script I'm writing now is also connected to my life, but I prefer to distance myself a little from what happens to me, to open up to other worlds."