Censored Voices will premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on January 24.
W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.
ML: One week after the Six-Day War in 1967, a group of young kibbutz-niks, led by the renowned author Amos Oz and editor Avraham Shapira, recorded intimate conversations with soldiers returning from the battlefield. The Israeli army censored those recordings, allowing only a fragment of the conversations to be published. Censored Voices reveals those original recordings for the first time.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
ML: For me, 1967 was a turning point for Israeli society. That was the point when the occupation began. Since I was a small girl, I was brought up with the narrative of how after the Six-Day War, the whole country was celebrating the historic victory. Although I come from a left-wing household, I thought that the voices against the occupation began only in the mid 1970s. During my university studies in history, I found out about secret conversations that were held only one week after the war that were censored by the Israel Defense Forces and the state censorship authorities.
I found out that there had been another voice, a different voice that had been denied. It felt like a punch in the gut. Why didn’t I know about it?! How did it never emerge?! This other voice that had been silenced was a voice I believe could have changed the place I live in into a better place for my children to grow up in, a voice that could have ended the occupation before it even began. Straight away, I started chasing after those recordings.
I [pursued] Avraham Shapira, who held all the recordings at his house. He was the one, together with Amos Oz, who conducted the conversations with the soldiers. At first he said no; so many reporters has approached him before. For some reason, he believed in me, and he believed that a documentary film was the right place to present the explosive material that he had been holding on to for all those years after they were censored in the 1960s. Those conversations are revealed in the film for the first time. It’s very exciting and scary.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
ML: Censored Voices is assembled out of old audio recordings. To create a film with these audio recordings — knowing they are so rare, important, and courageous, and to give them meaning in the cinematic medium — was definitely not an easy challenge. The search for the right cinematic language to connect sound and picture and to create a world that communicates and can move you without seeing the characters in real time was fascinating and challenging. In addition, the decision of how to bridge the past and the present — to film the characters today — only listening, without speaking, just reacting to their young voices — was one of the toughest decisions, and the one which I am finally most content with.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theatre?
ML: Censored Voices talks about a universal matter. Although it is about the Six-Day War, I think that every viewer can take it to the war(s) in his or her own country, to the psychology of war, a glance into the soul of the human race in war. I believe that the end of the film is very sad; it exposes a chord in the human race that leads us to make wars, to sin, to animal behavior. But I would like the end to also hold a spark of optimism about always having to listen to the other voice. We should not fear to look at the human race, with all its faults, so that we may mend them.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
ML: My advice is hard work. To pursue the story, to open your horizons, to choose a topic that really moves you, interests you, challenges you. I was lucky that Avraham Shapira, who held the recordings, believed in me. We became very close and he trusted me with his material, which intrigued me. I knew they were very important for Israeli society to listen to them. It’s important to choose the team that will act as a force that will push the project, that believes in the film and is ready to go with you to the end, like the wonderful team of producers of Censored Voices: Daniel Sivan, Hilla Medalia, and Neta Zewbner. And mainly to do, to move, to create, to explore.
W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?
ML: My films are films of political criticism. I find the dichotomy of “patriotism” and “treason” that is customarily applied in Israel, and maybe in other countries, to be incorrect. I make my films because I care about the place I live in, and not from a position of “treason.” In my opinion, it is the occupation that will ultimately bring about our destruction. My films, which have a very critical attitude, are made out of a wish to live in Israel alongside a Palestinian state, for there is no other way. Exactly what is considered “treason” by some is, in my view, the right thing to do in order to go on living here. As Amos Oz declares in the film, “If we succeed to tell ourselves, and maybe to others, what exactly pains us here and now, we might not bring service to the national morale, but we might bring a small service to truth.”
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
ML: Our film is completely independent and was funded by a combination of several different sources. We got support from Israeli broadcaster YesDocu and Israeli film funds Rabinovitch Pais and Gesher. Since it was produced as an Israel – Germany co-production, we also got a German broadcaster, Arte, and a German film fund. We collaborated with Impact Partners, which provided equity financing, and we received a fund from the Sundance Institute, as well as from Other Israel.
Another big part of the financing of Censored Voices was from pre-sale (BBC, RTS, VPRO, SBS, Radio Canada, and Knowledge Network), which we managed to secure through participating at Hotdocs Forum, Copro, and Sheffield Market. Funding is always a challenge, and we pretty much raised the money while making the film. It seemed that, always at the last minute, we somehow managed to secure just the amount we needed.
Since our film has a lot of archival material, many of the funding challenges were related to this aspect. The costs of archival material were extremely expensive and the material was complicated to find, and later, to license. We brought together footage from 30 different archives in the world. Some of the archival material had never seen the light of day before. We digitized them from the film itself. It was exciting to see such historical materials for the first time.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
ML: Women cinema directors are still considered “another voice,” and this really angers me. When I watch a movie, I do not ask myself whether it was directed by a woman or by a man, but whether it is a good movie. And from a feminist point of view, does it match my political views (as feminist, liberal, etc).
Had a man made Censored Voices, would he have made it differently because he is a man and I am a woman? I do not know; I guess he would do it differently because he’s another person than me. And yet, there is no doubt that we have gender inequality between women and men in the field of film directing, as we still live in a patriarchal society, and this is revolting and we have to strive to change that.
We don’t lack great women directors — Catherine Breillat with her film Fat Girl, Sofia Coppola with Marie Antoinette and Lost in Translation, Sarah Polley with Stories We Tell, the Israeli directors Keren Yedaya with Or, and Ronit Alkavetz (together with her brother) with her brilliant trilogy Ve’Lakhta Lehe Isha, Shiva, and Gett.