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Springboard: ‘Zero Motivation’ Director Talya Lavie On Normalizing Female Directors

Springboard: 'Zero Motivation' Director Talya Lavie On Normalizing Female Directors

For a director whose first feature film is called “Zero Motivation,” Talya Lavie has ambition and enthusiasm to spare. The Israeli female director and screenwriter has been making international headlines for her directorial debut about a group of young women serving their mandatory time in the Israeli Defense Forces. But don’t mistake “Zero Motivation” for your average war film. Lavie’s satirical characters are bored, sullen and serving their country by filing papers and pouring coffee in an administrative office. 

Loosely inspired by Lavie’s own experience in IDF, “Zero Motivation” impressed critics and audiences at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival where it took home the award for Best Narrative Feature. Lavie was also awarded the Nora Ephron Prize given to a female director with a distinguished voice.

Lavie revealed to Indiewire her feelings on her wins, the challenges of getting an independent film made, and being perceived as a *female* director. The film opens in select theaters today.

The
military service is mandatory in Israel for women as well as men,
so the
experience that is described in the film is very common in Israel. It’s about the little people who serve the more
important people and there are also women in the IDF that are pilots and tank
instructors and have more glamorous roles. So many army
films are made, but no one is going to make a film about those little people. So, I
figured that maybe I should do it. 

My
first interest and love comes from comics and animation.
 I used to draw
comics and I went to art academy to the animation department and then after two years there, I decided to move to film school. I went to the film school in
Jerusalem and it was the first time I saw how a film was done. Before
that, I didn’t know anyone who was connected to film and I didn’t see a set and
when I started to see those things, I felt right at home. 

When I was a kid, I saw many
army movies
—Israeli and American—and after my own military service, I thought
it would be funny to take some elements of this genre, of the classic army
films, with the epic proportions and use all those elements
and see this kind of service—of people sitting in the office and not risking their lives and their biggest danger is a paper cut, but still they
have so many inner dramas and adrenaline. 

Those
films like “Beaufort,” “Lebanon” and “Waltz With Bashir,” 
I really respect those films and I wanted to add this one to
the cultural shelf.
The film did very well in Israel and a lot of people told
me it was necessary for us and that’s how I felt. It won its place next to
those films.

I like to think that a male director could not have made this film just
because he’s not me, not because he’s not a woman.
That’s what I hope to
think—that I’m an individual and a director. Everything we do now, we
hope to make it normal. It’s not because I’m a woman, but because I am this
specific director.

It took me so long to raise the budget so that I felt
over-prepared.
I couldn’t wait anymore. After I took the script, it took me
four years just to raise the money for it. While I was waiting for the money, I wrote more scripts and
I had to keep different jobs all the time to support myself. I think the
biggest challenge was, since it was a very low budget film, was to do it all in
a very short time. We only had 24 days to shoot, so that was the biggest
challenge.

It
was very hard to finance it because they said they wanted to see more of the
politics, but I couldn’t.
Every time I tried to write something like that, I
felt that it was fake. I don’t want to do that to please foreign eyes. The
truth is that those girls that you see in the film, there’s always something
going on in the background. It’s blurry, but there’s always a war in the
background. They keep telling the girls “there’s a war outside and you’re crying about that?” And that’s the essence of Israeli
experience. The thing that was important to me was that the film be authentic. 

I
think the best way to get into an international market is not to point there.
 You have to be specific
and honest in order to reach a wider audience. If you are very specific and
authentic about something, then it can say something bigger. Universal. 

I
really like Miranda July and Sofia Coppola
and there are a lot of women that I
appreciate, but again as artists and filmmakers, not because they are women. 

It’s
very important to create more female role models
. I teach in film school. I’m
teaching screenwriting and directing and I think it gives the students a
positive model and for them and they take it for granted. For them, it’s not weird
that I am a woman and the more they see those things, the more it’s gonna be
normalized. 

READ MORE: Review: Tribeca-Winner ‘Zero Motivation’ Is Israel’s Answer to ‘MASH’ –With More Women

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