Two filmmakers, both born in New York, are in the spotlight as indieWIRE looks at a pair of films that have struck a chord with Toronto International Film Festival audiences as the event heads into the final stretch: Hal Hartley‘s “Fay Grim” and Eytan Fox‘s “The Bubble.” While “Grim” is set for domestic release next year from Magnolia (and worldwide sales are being handled by HDNet Films International), “Bubble” is still awaiting a U.S. deal, while a number of territories are already sold. Dealmaking continued in Toronto on Wednesday, with Lionsgate nabbing the U.S. rights to Sarah Polley‘s feature filmmaking debut, “Away From Her” (the latest deal news is available in indieWIRE’s Buzz section).
Hal Hartley’s Return
A signature member of New York City’s independent film scene back in the 90’s, filmmkaer Hal Hartley now lives in Berlin, and while his new feature “Fay Grim” returns to the characters he introduced in his 1998 feature “Henry Fool,” the film, starring Parker Posey in the lead role, is primarily set overseas. “New York just got harder and harder to live in as a creative person,” Hartley told indieWIRE Wednesday, during an interview conducted as we rode in a car back to his hotel ahead of his flight back to Germany. Citing the rising cost of living in NYC that is displacing the once vibrant concentration of creative people downtown, he added, “I found a more vital community, which turned out to be international, in Berlin, and I like that.”
The move has not come without its challenges, but Hartley consider those obstacles beneficial. “The day-to-day, moment-by-moment struggle with the language and the customs is good,” Hartley explained, “It feels nice to be a foreigner at this point in my life — its opening my eyes to the world.”
Such awarness has clearly fueled the ideas explored in “Fay Grim,” the story of Henry Fool’s wife who, seven years after Henry went missing, is a single mom raising her fourteen year old son in Queens. Her brother Simon, a former garbage man turned poet, is serving a ten year jail term for helping Henry (also an author). To broker her sibling’s release, Fay is drawn into a web of intrigue and espionage when the CIA tries to regain control of Henry’s private notebooks, which include writings that they fear are a national security threat.
Hartley explained that he realized early on that the characters from “Henry Fool” might return, even sharing after dinner stories over the years with friends about what happens next in the story. “I think i started sensing it when I was writing Henry Fool,” Hartley told indieWIRE, explaining that as more and more people told him that they were still thinking about the film, its characters, and their actions, he realized the figures “had legs.”
Calling “Henry Fool,” and now “Fay Grim,” his most novelistic movies, Hal Hartley told indieWIRE, “I think for most storytellers there is that ambition to — if everything works out right — find a group of characters and situations [that] really can exist for the rest of my life and always be a foundation for the consideration of the world as it changes.”
Next up for Hartley is a short film that he’ll shoot in Berlin, but before heading back home to Germany on Wednesday the filmmaker had time for a reunion at his Toronto hotel, a brief get together with the star of such Hartley films as “Trust,” “Simple Men,” “Flirt,” “Amateur,” and “The Book of Life,” actor Martin Donovan. [Eugene Hernandez]
Inside an Israeli “Bubble”
New York-born Israeli director Eytan Fox returns to Toronto with his latest film, “The Bubble,” screening in the festival’s Special Presentations section. Fox is remembered for his 2004 effort, “Walk on Water,” the story of an Israeli intelligence officer who falls for the grandson of a Nazi war criminal, while “Yossi & Jagger” (2002) takes on a romance between two male Israeli soldiers stationed on the Lebanese border. His latest film does not shy away from the topic of a forbidden love. “The Bubble” focuses on a group of three young roommates living near Tel Aviv’s trendy Sheinkin Street with its backdrop of cafes, gay bars, record stores and left-wing politics.
“Though Sheinken Street may not be as cool [as it used to be], mainstream [Israelis] still look at the area as the neighborhood that’s ‘cool,'” offered Fox during a conversation with indieWIRE, regarding choosing the particular area for his film.
In the story, Noam (Ohad Knoller) returns to his Tel Aviv flat after serving in the Israeli Defense Forces at a checkpoint. He is surprised one day when Ashraf, a Palestinian who crossed his checkpoint some days earlier, shows up at his front door, and the attraction is immediate. Noam and his roommates decide to take Ashraf in, marrying their left wing politics and a joie de vivre sensibility to “hide” Ashraf in the clothes, music, and language of their bohemian neighborhood. The new foursome are able to temporarily maintain their hip exile while the troubles of the Middle East remain at a comfortable, though slight, distance.
“People attacked the movie for being too left wing [and others] attacked it for not being left wing enough,” explained Fox about the film’s theatrical run in Israel, which coincided with the recent war with Hezbollah. “Tel Aviv became a scapegoat in the latest war because some said that people living in Tel Aviv didn’t care — they just continued having fun.” In one of the lighter moments in the film, the roommates join their lovers and friends for an ecstasy infused party on the beach dubbed the ‘rave for peace.’ Ashraf then returns to Nablus for his sister’s wedding, where tragedy strikes.
In creating “The Bubble,” which describes the idyllic cocoon that exists for some in cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, Fox, along with longtime collaborator Gal Uchovsky, who co-wrote and produced the film, wanted to combine the realities of people who live in Israel’s largest city while also looking at the bigger picture of the Palestinian conflict.
“For this film, we wanted to bring together a story about Palestinians and Israelis, but we can’t divorce [the fact] that we are Tel Avivians,” Fox concluded, “So we thought, let’s bring this Palestinian to Tel Aviv.” [Brian Brooks]
[Get the latest from the Toronto International Film Festival throughout the day in indieWIRE’s special Toronto ’06 section.]