I was lucky enough to speak to Eran Riklis at the London Film Festival and he was both candid and highly interesting to speak to. Read on to find out what he had to say about making the film for a wide audience, casting Stephen Dorff and shooting digitally.
There’s a balance in the film between entertainment and politics. And possibly more serious subjects that you might usually expect in ‘entertainment’ films.
I think that’s at the core of my filmmaking in general. I really think that once you’ve decided that you want to tackle these kind of issues – especially in the Middle East – because there’s many points of view and many schools of thought and everything becomes very emotional very quickly, but I think that if you want to bring any kind of message across you have to wrap it with almost… entertainment. My goal is not to make films for festivals, for small cinemas in some cellar, it’s about reaching a wide audience all over the world. You have to bear in mind that people have so many choices nowadays, that if you want them to come to your movie you have to at least make it look like something they’ll enjoy first of all. If they enjoy it they can also be open to whatever you are trying to bring across on many levels.
For me it’s not about knocking or hitting anyone on the head with a hammer, it’s more about saying that beyond and behind what you think you know, beyond your own prejudices, beyond the things that you see or read there’s a complexity that you have to be aware of. There’s a human side to every story and there’s always more than one or more than two sides. So it becomes about people coming out of the movie and saying, so what we thought we knew about Palestinians or Israelis or Jews or Arabs but we’ll think again. That’s all I’m asking.
You cast an American in the co-lead role as an Israeli. Was that a deliberate decision, to have an American play that role?
It’s almost a necessity once we were raising a higher budget than usual, for an Israeli film at least. In the region of seven and a half million dollars. When you think that your average, normal Israeli film is about a million. The films that I usually make, like Lemon Tree and The Syrian Bride were about three million, this is substantially bigger. And it meant that the pressures were such that they needed at least an international name for one of the leading roles. Once we embarked on that journey, which is not easy for me as naturally I wanted an Israeli actor, and once I met Stephen (Dorff) I liked him because there was something behind this façade of the average American hero. There was something very interesting there, something very sensitive, something complex. Once I started exploring that with him it led to some very interesting places. It’s not a statement. For me it’s almost about forgetting about that and I think you do after about five minutes.
The film is very positive in many ways. Were there any darker versions of the story at any point?
There were. There were a few darker options in terms of the story but I think that once it reached the screen I felt that I’m not hiding anything, there are some bleak moments – people shot in the street – but in the end what I was really interested in was the dynamic between these two people which was in principle could happen somewhere else. They could be on a long flight for instance. I think though the intervention of things happening around them was very important but I didn’t feel that it was a film about the horrors of war or the horrors of Lebanon. It’s not about that. It would be a different film. I think here it was about, here are these two guys, we know enough about, we’ve seen enough, we know where we are. It’s almost like I was tempted but I resisted going in the direction of showing you how horrible war is. It’s not about that.
You shot on an Alexa, how did you find the experience?
First time on the Alexa and I loved it. It’s sad to say but goodbye film. I did Syrian Bride on Super 35mm but post was the early days of digital. It changed your perception of grading because you could change a great deal of things. It was kind of mind-blowing at the time. But still it was a process of returning to 35mm. Then Lemon Tree I shot Super 16mm, same process. The Human Resources Manager was Super 16mm, Playoff a couple of years ago was 35mm. Suddenly shooting digital here. On the one hand we use the best lenses possible, it felt the same. I applied a film discipline, in the sense that you’re not just shooting like crazy, you do proper shots, you don’t go crazy. Because at the end of the day it’s about time, it’s not about the footage running in the camera. Every time I see the film, and now I’ve seen it on huge screens and normal screens, it looks so good. Technically there’s nothing you can say. If you’re a total purest there are a few things that I think film absorbs better but I don’t think there’s a reason to shoot on film today.