– by David Morgan-Brown
With the AICE Israeli film Festival for this year just finished, filmmaker Barak Heymann had two documentaries playing – Aliza and Almost Friends, both of which he produced. Barak works closely with his brother, Tomer (who directed Aliza), under their production company The Heymann Brothers – as these small, yet largely powerful films prove, there’s a sense of community and family spirit evident just by watching these films.
Barak explains how he and his brother first got in contact with the Israeli icon. “Our parents used to admire her many, many years ago when she was very big and famous actress and singer in Israel, that was in a time when there was only one public channel … so everybody knew her. Then when my brother, Tomer, directed this film back in the late ‘90s when he was a young filmmaking student, he wanted to make a short fiction film and he wanted her to perform in it. So he wrote her a letter and he was surprised and very honoured that she agreed to play it and after she played in his first film and he completely fell in love, so he told her that he would like to make a documentary about her.”
We catch a glimpse of this short film at the beginning of Aliza and see, from a chronological perspective, the establishing relationship between filmmaker and the star. “That’s when they started to work on the documentary and he followed her for a few months,” continues Barak. “He thought she was very, very beautiful, very interesting, emotional, controversial at times. But then he couldn’t complete the film because nobody wanted to finance it on the different film funds or the broadcasters, so he kind of put it away and after 18 years we had the opportunity to work with a public channel and then we went back to the old mini-DV tapes and we were very surprised and very happy to see there were actually some very beautiful moments there. So we went to the editing room and we created this film and I was very excited to see that so many people in Israel are going to the cinema and buying tickets to watch it.”
It may seem like quite an ask to get people to watch a doco about someone they don’t know, yet how good a documentary is can be judged by how much interest in that person it stirs in the viewer. “I don’t think it’s just talking about her,” Barak explains. “It’s also very much talking about the fragile, complicated, interesting relationship between the documentary film-maker and his/her main heroine of the film. Because as you see in the film Aliza, my brother Tomer, is trying to get more and more personal stories from her, more and more emotion, more and more further insight, and she is trying more and more to protect herself. Even if you don’t know anything about Aliza, you can still be very moved by this film as long as you care about cinema in general and documentary film-making in particular.”
As for how the main star of the show feels about her own movie. “She says it’s very embarrassing for her, she doesn’t feel she did enough interesting and big things in her life to be deserved to make a film about her, but at the same time she really likes the film and she enjoys finally having the main role.” She doesn’t have to be so modest, her name and this documentary ought to get even larger international recognition.
The second film of Barak’s that played at this recent festival, Almost Friends, is a documentary of a much different style and theme. “It’s real people who live real lives and experience real things,” says Barak about the very down-to-earth documentary. “And we have the privilege to document them for almost one year of very intensive shooting. I am very proud of it artistically, but I’m very sad about it politically because I wish that was not the reality, but it is the reality in Israel. When you can find the story of two beautiful, smart, amazing girls who are trying to do the most basic thing ever, which is just be friends, and reality don’t allow them.”
Although the film appears to have been shot like a fictional film, Barak claims he wished it was. “Unfortunately, this is totally how our life looks like in Israel, which is of course a very complicated and very colourful life and it has beautiful, positive, tolerant, open-minded people, respect … at the same time, it also has a lot of brutal violence, racists, right-wing aspects.”
Almost Friends isn’t simply a complaint about such socio-political turmoil, it suggests possible ways to alleviate this through social media sites/apps such as Facebook and Snapchat. “People will be able to get together to get to know each other even though like for instance in Israel the government is doing everything possible to make sure that Jews and Arabs don’t get together and the government of Israel makes sure that Jews and Arabs are still being afraid of each other, but people are afraid of the unknown and once people get to know each other and the digital media is definitely helping them to do so, they won’t hate each other anymore just because he’s an Arab or he’s Jewish, they will get to know each other. It will take so many years before we get there, but we all have to try and do everything possible in order to speed the process of bringing people together, people that never had the chance to know each other.”
And he believes his filmmaking work with his brothers could be changing the people of these cultures for the better, even if done so slowly. “I don’t really believe it could change the reality, but I do believe sometimes when you make a documentary and you’re able to deliver human message then you may be able to touch some peoples’ hearts, and maybe to make a very little, little change in their way of looking at things, and this is more important than any kind of award, just to realise that people watching this film that this is what’s happening in Israel, that people watching this make them rethink about different things in their life and in their political agendas.”