The 66th Berlinale is approaching – time for a closer look on who will be awarding this year’s short film prices: Avi Mograbi, filmmaker from Israel and part of our International Short Film Jury, talks about his personal and professional background, motivation and his new film Bein gderot (Between Fences), shown at Berlinale Forum this year.
Carlotta Löffelholz: Your films always have a political motivation, how is your relation to non-political films? Are there non-political films?
Avi Mograbi: I have no problem with films that are not political or are not necessarily reflecting on the political, if they are good films, if they are interesting and leave a mark on me, I will be happy to watch. I don’t like films that are superficial and leave no mark on me. Maybe all films are political, but everything we do or say is political. I make my films and they are indeed political or deal with politics.
CL: I would like to know how you started making films. You studied art, what made you choose film as a medium to express yourself?
AM: It was not clear that I was going to make films. I was born to a cinematic family; my father had one of the biggest cinemas in Tel Aviv, the Mograbi Cinema. When I was a teenager I did want to become a filmmaker, probably a very different one as I turned out to be. Then I went to study Art and eventually realized that I maybe was not going to be an artist. I started dreaming of making films again, and when I did start to make films they turned out indeed very differently from what I dreamt of when I was a teenager.
CL: In your films, you tend not to care too much about taboos. Where is the limit? Or how do you know how far you can go? Have you ever experienced censorship?
AM: I am not sure if my films really deal with taboos. I think my films deal more with responsibilities. I make films about issues to call on people to take responsibilities for what they are doing or what is done in their name. In order to take responsibility one has to acknowledge what is going on or what has happened. My films try to provide certain acknowledgement concerning our identity and history, meaning Israel’s identity and history. I’ve experienced very few instances of censorship. I think worse than censorship is when the public ignores your work and this is something I have experienced more, especially in Israel. Censorship makes you feel that you are doing something right, touching a nerve, but when you are ignored, well…
CL: How do you distribute your films? On your website, you offer to rent or download your films and even publish some films publicly available, what is your intention?
AM: My films go through normal distribution channels, cinema, TV broadcast, DVD release, and I make them available for download on my website. Through that I’m trying to reach audiences who missed my films on TV or cinema or the films have not reached their territory or are not aware of their existence. But reaching wide audiences via Internet is a full time job and I’m not very good at it.
CL: How do you show your films in Israel? Are there cinemas screening them?
AM: My films are normally broadcasted in Israel on a tiny documentary cable channel (Channel 8) and they do selected cinema take screenings, but none of my films was ever commercially released in Israel so it’s a very modest distribution in Israel.
CL: Your new film Between Fences has been selected for Berlinale Forum this year, I haven’t had the opportunity to watch it, but as far as I’m concerned it deals with another medium to build cultural bridges: theatre. How did you experience the interaction of film and theatre?
AM: Chen Alon and I started a theater workshop with asylum seekers in an open, open in brackets, detention center in the desert where the asylum seekers are summoned in order to put pressure on them to leave Israel and go back to their countries where they face death, genocide and imprisonment. So first and foremost we started this workshop as a kind of activist activity. Chen is very experienced in working with non-actors in the method founded by Augusto Boal, the Brazilian theater director and legislator. The method is called “Theater of the Oppressed”. Personally, I am not so crazy about theater but I wanted to work with asylum seekers and hear their stories and see how they reflect on us, the Jewish and Israeli ethnos. So eventually what happened was that Chen made a play out of it which is running now in different French theaters in Israel and I made a film out of making of the making of the play. By either medium we tried to capture what the asylum seekers have to tell us about the reality they have to face and our role within this reality.
CL: You deal with topics that have always been relevant to humanity and currently are in the center of attention again, how do you approach such big themes as refuge, war and identity?
AM: The truth is I don’t deal with big things as a starting point, I approach corners in my reality that I think need a little more light shed on, and in retrospect some of these stories encapsulate within bigger themes, but this is not what I’m looking for, this is not how I start a project. In my new film Between Fences, the starting point was a feeling of surprise of estrangement to the fact that asylum seekers are not welcome in Israel – a state that was founded to provide shelter to asylum seekers after World War II. I felt it was strange that people who fled atrocities in the past cannot empathize with people who are fleeing atrocities in the present.
CL: Do you have a dream?
AM: Oh yes, I do have a dream, I dream that we all dance together and drink and eat and love each other and care for each other and dream that it’s all true.