Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival: Three Promising Filmmakers

Stories range from a witch in the woods to a Sudanese migrant and a documentary on a motley street in Jerusalem.

Among the dozens of short films that will be shown at the Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival, which opened Wednesday and continues until Monday, several interesting and unusual faces are particularly prominent. Now is the time to get to know the young people who may one day be among Israeli cinema’s celebrated filmmakers.

The young director of the film, “Babaga,” Gan De Lange, is one of a surprisingly tiny minority of 12 female directors participating in the festival’s Israeli Competition, as opposed to 31 male directors. De Lange was born in Mitzpe Amuka in Israel’s Galilee region in 1985. She spent her childhood painting, sculpting and acting rather than watching movies and dreaming about a career in cinema. Even after she completed her compulsory military service, she did not contemplate the idea of studying cinema.

“To this day,” she recalls, with a smile, “I am not familiar with a great number of films, and that can sometimes be embarrassing.” After reading its brochure, which she just happened to come across, De Lange decided to register for studies at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem.

“Suddenly, I realized that I could pour all the things I love into this media, which I knew nothing about. I was so excited that I could not fall asleep and in the morning I went off to register,” she says.

The studies in this new field were very difficult, she attests, and each year she debated with herself whether or not to drop out of the program. “I felt that I was not making any progress, that I didn’t really understand how one went about making a film," she says. "Besides, I’m not technologically minded and the whole idea of filmmaking struck me as a very complicated business. You can start acting and painting without any prior preparation, but in cinema you need a lot of equipment, everything is so expensive and complex, and you need a lot of people and a lot of time. I felt that I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing.”

Only when she began working on “Babaga” and was forced to incorporate into her filmmaking all the elements that she loved, did the difficulty dissipate. She took a short story she had once written – about a witch who found it hard to believe that she was worthy of being loved. (“Witches are the loneliest figures in fairy tales and, when I was a little girl, they were the figures that attracted me most,” she explains. “I was not at all interested in those characters who ‘lived happily ever after.’”)

She decided that she herself would play the lead role. She insisted on shooting the film in a forest in northern Israel, where she felt most comfortable.

Despite the opposition she encountered in her school, De Lange was determined to shoot the film with an ugly heroine, without dialogue and with a wild pig. She taught herself how to make a silicon mask, and with her own two hands built both the cabin where Babaga lives and the various props used in the film. Thus she spent 17 hours a day for six days wandering about with a silicon mask on her face somewhere in northern Israel, directing and acting. The project exhausted her but, in the end, she thoroughly enjoyed it.

“Babaga” was chosen for the Cannes Film Festival’s 2013 Cinefondation Selection (which is dedicated to student films), as well as for the short films competition of the Jerusalem International Film Festival, which runs July 4-13. She has already written the screenplay for a feature film she hopes to shoot and, in the meantime, in another two months, she is planning to make another short film, “Water Hole” (working title), about a little girl who sets off for the desert in order to confront a monster that is the only creature that can give the girl the one thing needed to make her ailing mother smile again.

Have no visa, must travel

Another impressive film to be screened in the student film festival’s Israeli Competition is “Star without a Name” (22 minutes), directed by Ariel Cohen, a graduate of the Minshar School of Art in Tel Aviv.

The film’s hero, Hamis, a young man from Sudan, is a migrant worker who lives in southern Tel Aviv with his wife and their infant daughter. Bad news suddenly shakes up his world: The immigration authorities are not prepared to extend his temporary resident visa and he realizes that he must leave Israel immediately and cut himself off from his family.

The film, which was shot in black and white, deserves considerable credit for the superb performance of the lead actor (Hamis Elshaik), for the fast-paced and effective editing, and for its choking, claustrophobic atmosphere. A digital clock that keeps on popping onto the screen between the scenes emphasizes the quick passage of time and increases the feeling of pressure and urgency.

Cohen, 35, who was born in Tel Aviv, began studying film relatively late in life. One reason is that when he was in his early 20s, he wanted to be an actor and began studies at the Beit Zvi acting school in Ramat Gan. After three years at Ben Zvi, he began to appear in fringe theater, acting in two local films.

On the set of one of these films, he realized he wanted to tell stories and make films, so he registered for film studies at Minshar. Today, he is working on expanding “Star without a Name” into a full-length feature film, which will tell the story of three people who are from the area surrounding Tel Aviv’s new Central Bus Station. They live in one apartment block and their lives crisscross.

“I want to make films about social issues,” says Cohen. “Although I like to make people laugh, most of my films are sad. I would love to make a comedy but I grew up in a single-parent family, which is a kind of poverty, with a mother who was forced to work very hard for a living. In this country, there is the feeling that everyone is being pushed into a corner and people are judged only in terms of results. What I want to do is to show in my films not the results but the reason why people have gotten into the situation they are in right now.”

The person in the street

A third promising filmmaker is Matan Pincus, whose film “Hahistadrut Street” will be shown in the festival’s documentary film competition. The film depicts the election campaign of Pincus, who lives on Jerusalem’s Hahistadrut Street and wants to be elected head of his street.

Fed up with the neglect, filth and violence that he sees under the balcony of his home, Pincus decides to bring about a change. He prepares signs announcing elections for the post of head of Hahistadrut Street and approaches the merchants and residents on this street, trying to persuade them to vote for him.

Pincus, 28, was born in Jerusalem and is a graduate of the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & the Arts in Jerusalem. He manages to sustain an amused tone and his activist cinema draws the audience into what is happening on the screen. Four years ago, together with a few friends, he set up the "How Much Sugar" organization, which initiates alternative events on Hahistadrut Street.

“We wanted to get to know the city and its people through creative activity,” he explains. “Some of the activity was the election campaign that we ran for the post of head of Hahistadrut Street. My film has been defined as satiric docu-activism, and I think that this is an apt definition. It gives a taste of Israeli society and jumbles up the usual rules of the game, as well as providing a little social satire.” 

Ziv Berkowitz
Ziv Berkowitz