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Noi Albinoi

Mystery and ambivalence about this Bleak portrait of isolation are amplified on DVD —Marty Mapes (DVD review...)

Noi the Albino spends winter in Iceland alone

" Now there’s something you don’t see every day "
— Kathy Bates, Titanic

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Israeli director Nir Bergman toured North America to promote his feature debut, Broken Wings. He had been in Toronto the previous November. He bounced around the country, and now, March 10, he was in Denver.

As the last journalist to interview him before he returned to Israel, I had the disadvantage of having all my questions asked by previous journalists. Why no mention of the Israel-Palestine conflict? What did he think of the conflict? Which character did he see himself as in the movie?

Instead I decided to ask him about movies in Israel. What do they look like, and how are they made?

Marty Mapes: Tell me about movies in Israel; do you import 50% Hollywood?

Director Nir Bergman at his last stop before leaving North America
Bergman’s inner writer strives for atmosphere

Nir Bergman: Of course. More. First of all I think there’s good “art audiences” in Israel. So a lot of European filmmakers are known to have good crowds in Israel. Lars Von Trier’s Breaking the Waves was Israel’s greatest hit that year. It competed with all the American films we get. Same way with Almodóvar. Last film, he did 350,000 people. I’m not talking dollars. For Israel it’s almost a fifth of the population that goes to cinema.

And actually, Broken Wings did 250,000 people, which is amazing for an Israeli film because the audience really is a little bit still suspicious about Israeli films. It’s hard to get them to see it, but it’s getting easier.

MM: Do they like Hollywood?

NB: [It’s] like anywhere else in the world. Art film has just a good audience. It doesn’t mean that most of the people wouldn’t like to go see good entertainment — American movies — for sure. But independent filmmakers — even Americans — will, in percentage, probably be more known in Israel than in America. For instance if you take Todd Solondz, he’s known in Israel. People go to see Happiness or Welcome to the Dollhouse or Storytelling. They would go to see it, in percentage, more than they would be going here.

MM: Have you been to America before this trip?

NB: Yeah, I’ve been here a few times before.

MM: How would you compare the way Americans go to movies.

NB: I wouldn’t know. What I will say is just a feeling that I have, it’s not really based on the facts. The feeling I get here is that the big studio films, they can afford to lose money. They will be very, very aggressive, so aggressive they can really decide on the way that people will see their film, which I find very strange because from a more objective point of view, sometimes you look at these films and you really don’t understand what is the fuss about. So I guess they control, in a way, the audience way of thinking.

MM: And in Israel?

NB: Well, it’s a bit far away, so we will get the same pushy, strong [marketing] but on the way it will lose a bit of its volume and it will maybe leave an opportunity for people to think what they will really think about the film. For instance I think it was The Fourth of July was it...?

MM: Independence Day?

NB: I guess it did really well here. So in Israel my father went to see it. He was pushed by this aggressive [marketing] and he called me later and he said “What is going on, what is this, it’s so inane, you know?” He really didn’t understand what the fuss was about.

Making Movies in Israel

“The script writer will say ‘I like these small moments of life.’”

MM: How about making movies in Israel? Is there a studio system?

NB: It’s all independent, but most of it will be funded by the film fund.

MM: How did you go about making a movie?

NB: There’s a film fund who helps scripts become films. You write your script and you give it to them. They will get about 150 scripts a year. Back then when I did it they had to decide on about 6 to 8 films that would be made.

Your budget will be — about 2/3 of it will be film fund, which will be about $400,000 dollars. And then you will have to get a television station to put another $200,000 into the film and the budget will be about $650,000. That was the case in Broken Wings.

Nowadays there is a film law that makes government take tax money from television stations and put it back into films through the film fund. So we’re making almost 18 films a year, which is much better. But still the government is trying to change this law all the time.

Bergman’s Movie Beginnings

“Most of the things I write are character-based, not story-based”

MM: Why were you interested in making movies?

NB: I wasn’t a film freak when I was a kid. I wasn’t like the boy that goes to the art houses and sees all the films. I was actually pursuing a basketball career but they made pictures of my bones — I don’t know how to say it — and they saw I’m going to be very short, so that was the end of the basketball career.

And I guess my strongest experience with film was the was when I was about 16 and the circumstances in my life made me move on my own. I was living on my own but I had a VCR and I had Ordinary People. And this film spoke to my soul, so I have seen it about 20, 30 times; I knew the dialogue by heart. No one could have seen this film with me because I would have said the dialogue out loud. Timothy Hutton and his relationship with his father Donald Sutherland affected me so strong that when I became a filmmaker I wanted to touch people the way that I was touched back then. So it had a very strong influence about the way I wanted to make films, to reach audience with real characters, and to touch them the way I was touched, to try to make a difference with them and not to just go on and to do your happily-ever-after entertainment film.

MM: Did you think you could do that best through writing, directing, editing, or just telling the story? Was there a certain craft you liked?

NB: I think my school method was really very good to me because they were looking for your inner voice, and that was for me it was the right thing. The arena was to look for your inner voice but then have strong script and a strong drama and a strong hero. So I had to learn that because most of my writings are a little bit atmospheric. So I had to go through that to teach myself how to do that because most of the things I write are character-based, not story-based. The director in me will say “give me more drama, I need more drama” and the script writer will say “I like these small moments of life.” So it’s a constant conflict between the two of us.

MM: You said you have to submit a screenplay and only 8 get chosen. Was Broken Wings the first one that you submitted?

NB: Yeah, I was very lucky. Usually you don’t submit your first script and have it made. I was really lucky.

MM: You had done some other work before Broken Wings?

NB: I made a documentary. The subject was “the queen of the class.” It was about women, 10 to 80, suffering from the effect that they were too popular. That was a television documentary. It was very hard to make it. Just 2 shooting days and 7 editing shifts, including mix and sound and that was it. But it did really good. They showed it on television a few times and then they went out and showed it at the cinematheque, the art house.

Making Broken Wings

“Eventually I had to shout at him, until he came back with fire”

MM: And that got you some practice for Broken Wings?

NB: Of course, but actually I studied for so many years. In a way, when I came to the set to direct Broken Wings, I actually didn’t direct any fiction for more than 2 years because I took time to finish my graduate film as well. But it did feel like home, you know, coming back to the set.

The main difference between the short and the feature was like the difference between painting on a picture where you see all the frame, and painting on a big wall, that you just paint and you don’t see the whole picture. So that was the difference. It was really hard. I understood that what I had to do is to paint each scene like I was doing it now, really wait til the editing room to take my characters by the hand and to lead them to a moment in the film.

MM: And you might have had to do a little more leading than usual. Some of these actors were first-time actors, is that right?

NB: Yes. Yair was like that. You had to use different manipulative ways for each actor. It’s not like you have one method to work with all your actors, you gotta work with each of them the way that he works.

MM: For example?

NB: You want to bring them to the authentic moment. But then it’s so different between different actors. For instance I had a lot of problems with Yair in the energetic scenes. He was a non-actor and he had this pain in his eyes that got him the part, and he was quite good, he was great in most of the scenes that he didn’t have to be angry. And then when he had to be angry and he had to be more excited, he found it hard to do because it wasn’t exactly in his nature.

So I had to ignore him that day. I had to not speak with him. And eventually I had to shout at him, until he came back with fire, you know? With what he was feeling. So when he and his sister are shouting at each other, that was a scene you really had to work on to get it out.

And with Orli, the one who plays the mother, it is totally different because she is so energetic in life and her character is so slow so it was actually saying, “listen, you carry your body slow, you’re tired, you’re in a zone, like you’re stoned a bit all the time.” And she was all the time saying “but I want to live, I want my character to be vivid, I want to be glamorous like the hollywoodian actors.” So in a way with her it was different, it was cooling her off. But I think she did it marvelously, and still you have these vivid moments in the film that she suddenly comes out with a beautiful smile or a beautiful reaction and you can see how vivid she made the character be, so colorful in a way. So with this conflict between us came something much more good than the original script.