Upon graduating from high school, Danae Elon spent two years in compulsory military service as a non-commissioned officer to the United Nation forces in the area. At age 21, Elon left Israel to study at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She has directed “Never Again, Forever,” “Wild Mint,” “Another Road Home” and “Partly Private.” In 2009, Elon was the recipient of the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in Film. (Press materials)
“P.S. Jerusalem” will premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on September 14.
W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.
DE: “P.S. Jerusalem” is the story of my family’s return to the city in which I grew up: Jerusalem. Over the course of four years, I filmed my children and my partner by asking them questions and simply witnessing the way in which they react to the contested reality surrounding the [answers]. It’s through the eyes of family and children, bringing forward a personal point of view [so] that the audience experiences a deep and moving portrait of a place and its people.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
DE: I am drawn to address complex social and political subjects by staying close to my own world and examining how [the people in it] react and evolve as human beings in a complex setting such as Jerusalem. I wanted to draw a portrait of a place without falling in to the stereotypes so often associated with the Middle East and Jerusalem in particular.
Most of all, I wanted to express what it felt like to be so torn about the place one comes from and wants to call home. I wanted to bring my family back to the place in which I grew up. Once the decision was made, I started filming my four-year-old son, who was quite articulate for his age and asking all sorts of interesting questions. Experiencing the city through his fresh and untainted feelings was what compelled me to focus on him and his younger brother, as well as my Jewish Algerian partner, Philip Touitou, who collaborated with me on my last film, “Partly Private,” and whom I deeply enjoy filming for his sincerity and emotions.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
DE: My biggest challenge was to find a way to film an “impossible” city — a city that has been so over-documented and in many ways has its own image, which in my mind is larger than any documentary film can capture. I found that each time I opened my camera and filmed Jerusalem, its image was overtaking what I wanted to express.
Every city has a “filmic” quality to it — that very quality which already has a character associated with it. It was this character that I wanted to avoid, or more accurately, I wanted to make personal. Therefore, I found myself filming mostly “inside,” focusing on my family and their realizations about the place and avoiding any recognizable imagery of the city. The result, I hope, is a very personal testimony to how the outside world affected us.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
DE: I would like people to feel — not think — when they leave the theater. My film is an emotional experience, not an intellectual one.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
DE: I feel that we should try and understand how we as women storytellers have often fallen into the mode of telling stories in the ways in which traditionally men would. I often find that my points of view are expressed by male characters — in this personal film, I could not help it, as I have three boys! However, I would like to find a more precise way to not only tell the stories of female characters, but also do so in a female “way.” My biggest advice would be to trust yourself.
W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?
DE: That my films are personal. Yes, they are, but only as a means to express a larger story in the most sincere way I know how to do.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
DE: My film was pre-sold to Israeli Television. We registered the film as a Canadian production, since all crew beside me were Canadian, based in Quebec. This allowed us to finance the film through Canada’s tax-credit program.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
DE: “Ben Zaken” by Efrat Corem, which premiered at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival. “Ben Zaken” is a sensitive portrait of the south of Israel and of an environment that is marked by stagnation and lack of resources. I was deeply moved by the director’s dialogue with the place itself — not in relationship to how the more privileged parts of society may view it, but from within.
The characters in the film had their own dialogue with themselves and the culture they came from. So often we try to look at “others” — tell stories in underdeveloped places, judge them and set the drama within them. Corem comes from the city she filmed, and the reality she is expressing is her own. She makes no apologies and does not attempt to seduce any audience beside the one she is representing. I think this takes a lot of courage and integrity — to find your own voice and way to express not only your story, but the reality you are setting it within.