Sneak Preview

There are over 30 Israeli films currently in production and scheduled for release in the next two years. Some are being made by experienced filmmakers, while others are the debuts of artists attempting the complex undertaking of a full-length film for the first time. They have at their disposal a multimillion shekel budget and a crew of seasoned professionals, to enable them to breathe life into the script they wrote and to realize their cinematic vision. Of these, we have selected five gifted and intriguing artists whose films are in various stages of production, for a peek at the next generation of Israeli cinema.

In the wake of a beautiful Yiddish poet

Born in Bat Yam. Studied psychology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and film at the London Film School. The student films she directed won prizes. Her 50-minute "Sob Skirt," won the Best Drama award at the 2002 Haifa Film Festival. Her documentary "To See If I'm Smiling" won Best Documentary in Haifa in 2007, two prizes at the 2007 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), the jury prize at the 2008 Hot Docs festival in Toronto and the prize for best documentary from the Forum of Documentary Filmmakers. She is currently rewriting the screenplay of "Pension Pracht." Early last month she was notified that the Israeli Film Fund will underwrite the production.

The plot: "Pension Pracht" is based on Aharon Appelfeld's "Night After Night," about Manfred, a Holocaust survivor of 45 who lives in a pension in 1960s Jerusalem. One day a beautiful, charismatic Yiddish poet comes to the pension. Inspired by her, Manfred decides to donate half of his savings for the revival of the Yiddish language.

What film has had a particular influence on you?

"'Man Facing Southeast,' an Argentinean film I saw when I was 19, about a man who comes to a psychiatric institution and claims that he has come from another world. It's an early and far better version of 'K-PAX. The film raised questions in me about how willing we are to get close and open up to people who threaten our world as we know it."

What is the scariest thing about working on your first feature film?

"That all the fears will decided to attack you on the same day."

What film would you make if you were given $50 million?

"I'd make an experimental travel film written through joint work with the actors. I think $5 million would suffice. The remaining money is only so that we wouldn't worry and would be able to allow ourselves to experiment and make mistakes and take risks."

What's the worst thing that could happen to you with an actor in your film?

"Lack of trust."

What is your aspiration as a creative artist: to entertain, to subvert, to make the viewer think?

"To arouse: emotion, thought. I think I am most grateful to films that arouse inspiration."

How would the ultimate review of your film begin?

"With a sentence from which I would understand that I had succeeded in transferring the spirit of the book 'Night After Night' to the screen and in infecting the viewer with the protagonist's passion to do something meaningful and great."

Total commitment from the cast

Grew up in Moshav Benaya, 28. Wrote prose from an early age, studied literature at Tel Aviv University and film at Sam Spiegel Film and Television School. In his second year he made a short, "Mr. Kurzweil Is Dead," which was screened at the Cannes Film festival in 2006 as part of Israel Film Day. As a result he began writing the screenplay for "Bena," left Sam Spiegel, took part in Talent Campus at the Berlin International Film Festival and was invited to Amsterdam for five months to work on the screenplay. He is currently editing the feature film, which stars Michael Moshonov and Shmuel Vilozni.

The plot: "A complex relationship between a father and his son, who is prone to attacks of rage. Bena, a Thai woman who comes into their home, undermines the status quo and creates tensions."

Name a film that has influenced you especially.

"'Dog Days' by the Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl. Very bleak, very violent, filmed in a phenomenal way and succeeds in getting across a portrait of a number of Austrian types on a few very hot days. I liked the chutzpah of the director in presenting such difficult and violent human situations, without a drop of self-righteousness or any attempt to beautify. I love provocative cinema, cinema that strangles."

What is the scariest thing about working on your first feature?

"Since I hadn't made many films before I didn't know the people on the crew and I chose them mainly by intuition. It was very scary to come across people, including actors, who at the moment of truth wouldn't be there for me. Luckily my choices turned out to have been good ones."

If you were offered $50 million, what film would you direct?

"I would make a movie about the crazy life of Frank Zappa, who in my opinion is the most important musician ever, and about whom a film has never been made. I would reconstruct his amazing performances and the story of his life."

What is the worst thing that could happen to you with an actor in your film?

"That they would impose limits on me. I demand totality from an actor, I love it when they devote themselves and put their trust in me. If they don't do this and want to avoid doing certain things it could be the start of a chain of lack of trust. To my delight, in 'Bena' that didn't happen to me."

What is your aspiration as a creative artist: To entertain, to destabilize, to make people think?

"If someone is destabilized it makes him think. In my stories I undermine the language, and in 'Bena' the cinematography and the editing are also quite out of the ordinary. I think that both in writing and in film I investigate language. I try to break it down, to examine its components and encode from them a language of my own, a renewed language, in the hope that there will be some kind of poetry in it."

What sentence would open the ultimate review of your film?

"'It seems that there was an attempt here to tell a story.' Someone once said that about my screenplay, and with all my resistance to this sentence there is something interesting about it, because it says that there is something here, but it is hard to get hold of, it is elusive, there are unusual things here that are hard to define, outside the genre. Either that, or the sentence: "A bit of a maze!"

I fear feeling as if it's not mine

Born in Tel Aviv, 33 years old. Studied philosophy and history at Tel Aviv University and worked as a journalist for the local weekly Ha'ir [owned by the Schocken Group, which owns Haaretz]. After that he lived in Paris for two years, wrote a book of prose, "Tamshikh Lirkod" ("Continua bailando," Babel, 2002) and began studying at Sam Spiegel in Jerusalem. His short documentary, "Mohammad Works in Industry," was screened at Cannes and his short film "Road" was shown at the Berlin Festival. His final project for school, "Emile's Girlfriend" (50 minutes) was also screened at Cannes, was distributed commercially in France and was broadcast on the Arte Channel. The Cannes Festival awarded Lapid a stipend to write the screenplay for his feature "The Policeman," shooting on which is slated to start in six months.

The plot: "A member of an elite police unit is waiting for the birth of his first child and becomes involved in a seditious episode in the context of the class wars and the economic gaps in Israel."

Which films have influenced you especially?

"[Pier Paolo] Pasolini's 'Teorema.' This completely befuddled my senses and half an hour after it was over I found myself in a place without understanding how I got there. I assume that this is the ability to touch on political-social topics and the deepest places in a person's psychological and physical existence at the same time, and all in a very abstract and concrete way."

What is the scariest thing about working on your first feature?

"That in the end, when the film is ready, I won't feel that it is my film. Cinema is a terribly large system and easily, without being aware of it, you can start being alienated from your own film."

Supposing you are offered $50 million. What film would you direct?

"I would split this sum up into 10 films, and every three years I would make a film under excellent conditions."

What is the worst thing that can happen to you with an actor in your film?

"An actor who embarrasses you, whom you can't look at as he acts, when you are in two separate worlds and there is no communication between you. In every actor, after all, you try to find yourself, because you are sending other people to do something that you can't so that they will take you there. When you can't find yourself in your actor, it's a feeling of alienation and failure."

What is your aspiration as a creative artist: To entertain? To undermine? To make people think?

"It seems to me that my aspiration is to undermine and to make the viewers think and to move people in my own way, to make films that I want to direct and that others want to see, that will be special and have a music of their own."

What sentence would begin the ultimate review of your film?

"I know what adjectives I would want to be there: unique, interesting, hard to define. I would be glad if the critic would not be too quick and easy about writing the review, that when he leaves the film he won't say, 'Ah, it's like so and so, only a bit different,' or 'This is the new X,' but that he would have to find other, new words for the film."

Against the dictatorship of thinness

Born and raised in Ramle, 34 years old. He studied film at Camera Obscura School of Art, graduating in 2000. He was a writer of the comic television series "Katzarim" (Shorts). Together with Tal Granit he wrote and directed the 50-minute drama "Mortgage," which was broadcast on Channel 2 and won the Best Drama prize at the 2006 Jerusalem Film Festival. Together with Danny Cohen-Solel he wrote the screenplay for the feature "Big Story," which he is now editing with his directing partner, Erez Tadmor ("Strangers").

The plot: "It's about a group of fat people who stop dieting to protest the dictatorship of thinness, start a sumo wrestling class and in this way learn to love their bodies and themselves."

Which film has influenced you especially?

"'Annie Hall.' I first saw it when I was around 15, and I'm embarrassed to say how many times I've seen it since. It's a witty romantic comedy about a relationship that breaks the cinematic medium with respect to form and plot and in my opinion is the funniest comedy ever."

What scares you most about making your first feature film?

"Failure. I usually create out of anxieties and lack of confidence, and this pushes me to perfectionism. So even though I write comedies I sit at home depressed, writing jokes."

Suppose you were offered $50 million. What film would you make?

"With that sum I would make 50 films. We did "Big Story" with $1 million."

What is the worst thing that could happen to you with an actor in your film?

"Lack of trust. When there's no trust it's hard to communicate, and the moment the actor facing you doesn't really believe in your way, at a certain stage he will want to direct himself and that can lead to chaos."

What is your aspiration as a creative artist: To entertain? To undermine? To make people think?

"A combination of the three. I don't only want to make people laugh, I don't only want to make them ponder, I want all three to be in the film. Therefore I usually write comic dramas, which combine drama and comedy. When the moment starts to be too emotional, I break it with a joke."

What sentence would begin the ultimate review of your film?

"That's easy: A great story, a great film."

Dreaming of science fiction, making a love story

Born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, 30 years old. Immigrated to Israel with his family in 1991. Studied film at Tel Aviv University. His final project, "Laila Affel" ("Dark Night"), from 2005, won numerous prizes, including honorable mentions at the Venice and Jerusalem film festivals and an Oscar nomination for the Honorary Foreign Film Award in the Student Academy Awards. Since then he has directed the drama "Like a Fish Out of Water," broadcast on Channel 2, and is now working on the soundtrack for the feature "Five Hours from Paris," the screenplay for which he wrote together with Erez Kav-El.

The plot: "A love story between a Bat Yam cab driver and the music teacher at his son's school."

Which film has influenced you especially?

"Two films by [Jean-Luc] Godard influenced me greatly at the time: Pierrot le fou, with its romanticism that borders on madness, and "Bande a part" ("Band of Outsiders"), which had something very fresh, and also very romantic, about love for a woman alongside love for a friend. But many films have influenced me, and I believe that at some point there's no significance to any one specific film, but rather to the context and the aggregate of the meanings in the films."

What is the scariest thing about working on your first feature?

"Losing myself. Because making a film is something very dynamic, at every stage things take on another meaning, another color, they change. The scariest thing is to lose in this process the real skeleton, what I want to say."

If you were offered $50 million, what film would you direct?

"A science fiction film. Without a doubt. Ever since I was five, my father and I have been science fiction freaks. At first he read me stories, and later on I read by myself, a lot. I would write a powerful human drama that takes place during a journey in time."

What is the worst thing that could happen to you with an actor in your film?

"When there are hard feelings. There is nothing uglier than continuing to work with an actor with whom I have something unfinished or unresolved, and it's impossible to close certain channels of communication during work that is sometimes so emotional and demands going deep and opening."

What is your aspiration as a creative artist: To entertain? To undermine? To make people think?

"I don't want to give up any of those elements. However, I believe that a film that doesn't make you think isn't worth watching, whereas a film that doesn't move you but does make you think is worth watching. So nevertheless I give priority to the desire to cause the viewer to think."

What sentence would begin the ultimate review of your film?

"An intelligent film that succeeds in touching the emotions. Maybe a bit not to my taste and not precise, but that's a good thing. The director has a few things to learn before making his next film."