Tragedy Inspires Memorial Movie With a Difference

Director Yonatan Kanaskevich reveals why he made a memorial documentary about himself.

In the spring of 2001, Elad Litvak and Yonatan Kanaskevich went to serve with their armored unit on the Mount Dov line on the slope of Mount Hermon. Both men were from Kibbutz Gazit in the Jezreel Valley and had become close friends in the army.

Kanaskevich says he regarded Litvak, a year his senior, as a role model. At one point Kanaskevich asked Litvak to be the loader of the ammunition in his tank, but his friend refused. "He said it wasn't healthy for two guys from the same kibbutz to serve in the same tank," Kanaskevich recalled.

Yonatan Kanaskevich
Ofer Vaknin

On April 14, 2001, Litvak was killed by an anti-tank missile that penetrated the tank he commanded. He was 22-years-old. Litvak's refusal to have Kanaskevich in the tank with him saved the latter's life.

During the subsequent seven-day mourning period, Kanaskevich decided to make a film in memory of his friend. He had no background in cinematography, so he asked his father to help him edit the video.

"After I finished working on the film I felt tremendous satisfaction that I had managed to preserve some of Elad's memory," Kanaskevich said. "The movie to Elad was the most significant experience in my life and the best thing I had done for another person."

Making the documentary also led Kanaskevich to realize what he wanted to do with his life, so he enrolled in the film and television department at Tel-Hai College in the Upper Galilee.

But Kanaskevich also made another decision, an unusual one: To make a memorial film about himself. "After Elad was killed, I was preoccupied with the question of what would happen if that had happened to me. I just started filming, and I filmed all the time."

The subsequent film is called "Memorial Movie." Kanaskevich said that making the documentary "was a frightening process. My father told me he couldn't say the word death, but told me 'go for it.'"

During the Second Lebanon War, another soldier from Kibbutz Gazit, Staff. Sgt. Oren Lifshitz, was killled in the battle of Bint Jbail. "It flooded everything about me," Kanaskevich said. "It's a fear that's there all the time, a kind of existential anxiety that maybe everyone has, especially in our country. There's always this sort of question mark. We live in a country that's kind of post-traumatic... I remember that after Elad was killed I was afraid of death. Every conversation with my parents, I told them I loved them. The film is also an attempt to take control of the fear."

Kanaskevich says he wants the film, which was four years in the making, to be "as precise as possible, as authentic as possible... with shortcomings and failures, fears, things [people] didn't know about me, things they missed."

"Memorial Movie" will be screened on May 15 as part of the DocAviv students' competition at the Cinematheque, Tel Aviv.