Director Yair Hochner‘s “Antarctica” is set in Tel Aviv and centers on an interconnected group of friends and their various relationships. At the crux is the adorably bookish Omer, about to turn 30, who still hasn’t found himself, and his free-spirited best friend Miki, who both end up inadvertently dating the same handsome journalist, Ronen. Frozen in place, they and their assorted family members and lovers all seek the same thing–a guiding light to show them that love is still out there. Regent Releasing opens “Antarctica” in Los Angeles Friday, November 14 with other cities to follow.
Please introduce yourself…
I was born in Kfar Save, Israel, served in the Israeli Defense Force. With the encouragement of notable directors Keren Yedaya and Tomer Heiman, I set out to direct my first feature, “Good Boys” (Yeladim Tovim), which tells the story of rent boys in Tel Aviv, received acclaim as the Winner of OUTstanding Emerging Talent Award Outfest; Winner of the Showtime Vanguard Award NewFest; Jury Grand Prize – Feature Film image+nation International LGBT Film Festival in Montreal; Winner of: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Cinematography -Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival; and Winner, Best Israeli Film, Eilat International Film Festival.
I taught cinema to high school students for five years in Netania. Currently I write film reviews for Seret (Film), Israel’s leading cinema site. I wrote articles for the Cinematheque Magazine, Time Out Tel Aviv, as well as short stories for the Tel Aviv newspaper and Camera Obscura magazine. In 2007 I directed my second feature Antarctica. In 2008 I co-produced and directed “Fucking Different Tel Aviv” with Kristian Petersen.
I’ve been the artistic director of the TLVFest, the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival since co-founding it in 2006.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?
I’ve LOVED movies since age zero; I spent most of my childhood in the neighborhood cinema or watching movies on TV. I saw all the classic films every Saturday night on the public channel (before the cables and commercial channels started in Israel 15 years ago). I saw movies from Hitchcock, Fellini, and All the John Ford westerns to Francois Truffaut and the new wave movies. It was the best school of cinema. Even when I was a child I preferred to see movies for adults, like, when I was 9 we went to see “Amadeus” and “The Name of the Rose” when I was 12. I can say that my parents had excellent taste in movies and from an early age started to go on my own to the cinema. When movies were restricted to 18 and up, my father went with me so at age 15 I saw “Wild at Heart” and at 16 I asked him to take me to “My Own Private Idaho“. My dream is to bring Gus Van Sant to our film festival. Movies also started my interest in the lives of male prostitution that led to writing the script of my first feature.
How did the idea for “Antarctica” come about?
During 1999, my last year in Camera Obscura – Art School in Tel-Aviv, I started to write the first draft of a script under the influence of my favorite film of that year, Michael Winterbottom‘s “Wonderland.” It was about a group of singles in Tel-Aviv, but I wanted to do a queer film so all the character became gay & lesbians. I decided that I’d do homage to John Waters and Divine too, so I decided to cast Miss Laila Carry to as Shoshana, Omer and Shirley mother. He is one of the greatest Drag-Queens in Tel-Aviv.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…
My approach is that the most important thing for the directors is that the crew and the actors should be passionate about the project and will totally trust the director. They are not getting a salary at the end of the day, so they must have a great reason to be a part of the movie.
I don’t believe in rehearsals. We are doing lots of reading and meetings over coffee talking about life, going out to movies – and becoming best friends before the shooting. So hopefully during the production, they are totally in to the film. Although the script is my baby it’s not the bible so if the actors had an idea I was very open minded about it. During the shooting they became the characters and sometimes they can contribute much to the script.
About the influences – I think “Antarctica” start as Mike Figgis’ experimental/Video-art style films, only with lots of sex and full frontal. Then it becomes a realistic movie about loneliness in the big city like “Wonderland”, and suddenly a gay romantic comedy with a touch of camp, a few genres in one movie.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in finding distribution?
The movie is screening now for 4 months consecutively in Tel-Aviv’s cinematheque, the only cinema that agreed to screen it in Israel. Commercial distributors refused to screen it in their cinemas but they almost don’t screen any LGBT movies. Outside of Israel it was sold to many countries and is going very well in film festivals.
What other genres or stories would like to explore as a filmmaker?
I am definitely interested in making horror and action movies in the future. But I prefer to shoot my scripts before and then start to think about my other favorite trashy genres.
What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?
First of all do what you wish to do, don’t think about how to sell it, audience and other economic commercial influences. Do what is in your heart. If you are really passionate about it, the audience will feel it and like it and then you will make some dollars too. Do it raw do it extreme and without limits. Second, find the right people to work with, those who believe in you, and you can trust. I prefer people that are crazy about cinema and not only about money.
Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of.
Founding and being the artistic director of TLVFest- Tel Aviv’s International LGBT Film Festival is a dream come true. I believe this festival has changed LGBT culture in Israel and there is more queer filmmaking now than ever. I hope that every year we’ll see more and more Lesbian and gay independent directors in Israel that will not have to wait for funds and make their films their own way.