Isreali director Eytan Fox has followed up 2004's "Walk On Water" with "The Bubble," a film that earned a warm reception at last year's Toronto International Film Festival. The film explores the Tel Aviv's isolated relationship to the rest of its conflicted country through the eyes of a group of friends with varying genders, religions and sexual orientations. The film opens this week in limited release.
Tell us a bit about yourself...
First and foremost, I'm a filmmaker. This is what I've wanted to do ever since my first days of high school. It is also why I went to the Tel Aviv University Film School to study after completing my army service. Filmmaking is more much more than just a job for me. It's my life and my passion.
Could you expand on that? How has your interest in filmmaking evolved during your career?
I make movies to tell stories that matter to me. What I do isn't about big budgets or glamorous PR or being famous. It's about telling stories. All the protagonists of my movies are somehow me, Gal Uchovsky (my spouse of 19 years who writes the scripts and produces the movies), my family, my friends, or even just people I know. From Yonathan, the young soldier in my graduation movie "Time Off", to Noam, the Tel Aviv lover in "The Bubble", these people are all parts of me in one way or another. Even Eyal, the Mossad agent in "Walk On Water" carries with him some Israeli characteristics that are deep inside me. And he certainly resembles a lot of the men around me. What I'm not is a director who is just handed a script and starts shooting. I create it, and I know from day one a few of the scenes that it will feature. Gal says all the scriptwriters I ever worked with were more like dialog writers. I think he's probably right. Although, I am trying to change and give writers more space, but I won't tell you it's easy. I insist on being there to watch the story grow and mature and find its way to a suitable and fulfilling ending.
I tell stories that are primarily about people; people the audience falls in love with and remembers long after the theater has gone dark. But these people are always also part of some political situation. It's never just a story about young people's lives because there is no such thing here in Israel. I believe that everything in life has political meaning. In Israel it's very much upfront and in your face all the time.
I want my movies to grab people by the balls and make them want to stay to watch the story till the end. Then I hope they go home with a little something to think about, something that lodges itself in the backs of their minds and irritates their conscience for days. For me, that's real success.
How did the idea for "The Bubble" come about and evolve?
"The Bubble" is a term used by many Israelis to describe life in the heart of Tel Aviv. It's where a large number of all the young people in Israel arrive after the army to try and have a nice, regular, twenty-something experience. In order to maintain it, they try to stay away from politics-as-usual and just concentrate on fun, sex, and plain old getting by.
The problem is that this Bubble is, well, a bubble. It's delicate and fragile - a naive concoction whose sole purpose is to keep the harsh reality of life in the middle of a war zone well to the periphery. Yet every now and then reality sticks a pin through the bubble, quickly reminding everyone that life outside isn't as simple and ideal as it is inside.
I, too live in this bubble. But I am older and, I like to think, a bit wiser than the kids just starting their post-Army lives. My movie about this bubble is a tribute to these young people who are huddled together inside, trying to make better lives for themselves amid centuries of anger, war, and death. Can you really blame them?
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution for the film? How did the financing for the film come together?
In Israel, there is no real distinction between studio movies and independent films. I guess you could say all movies made here are somehow independent. Luckily for us financing is not that difficult. We have the backing of Moshe Edri and United King films, a big production and distribution company here. They've been a part of most great movies made in Israel in the last decade.
Our other partners are The Israeli Film Fund, Keshet TV, and the cable company Hot. These people backed all our previous movies. We don't have huge budgets but we managed to get a reasonable $1.5M for "The Bubble", with a little extra help of some private investors.
What are your overall goals for the project's release?
"The Bubble" is now ready for an American release, and my main goal is to make sure it's not pigeonholed as a "gay movie." We showed it already in Israel and France and in both countries it was a resounding success with young, urban crowds. The movie portrays Tel Aviv as you've never seen it on CNN or FOX NEWS, as the vibrant New York of the Middle East.
As a gay man, it is important for me not to hide my identity but to make films that a modern, straight audience can relate to and, I hope, also simply enjoy. I know the US is a little tough on that, but I am very confident in Strand Releasing, Marcus Hu, Jon and their team are working to make sure "The Bubble" will not come across as another niche, gay film.
Our experience in Paris, where the movie had great reviews and a warm welcome by straight audiences, gives me hope that America will not disappoint me by labeling our movie and limiting it's potential audience. This is truly a film for everyone, regardless of your sexual orientation. I know a lot of older Jewish moviegoers who loved "Walk On Water" and made it the biggest Israeli box office hit in the US ever will find "The Bubble" a little more challenging to grasp, but I have a good belief in audiences. They are always smarter than the media thinks they are.
What is your next project?
We are working on a few films. The two I can disclose are: a true story based on the autobiography of Gad Beck, a half Jewish, gay man who survived the Big war in Berlin. He is now 84, lives in Germany, and X-Films bought the rights to his memoirs. Gal is now writing the script for the film version.
I am also currently working with the great French producer Alain Goldman on an adaptation of the Isaac Bashevis Singer book "Shosha." We are now trying to find an American script writer to adapt the book.
Both movies are around World War II, so we watch a lot of holocaust movies and sink into that period, trying to imagine it from the point of view of modern city folks, as both stories (Shosha takes place in Warsaw in the 30's, before the German invasion) are about people just like us: bohemian, free spirited, and right in the middle of history in the making. It is something that we as Israelis, living in a war zone and in constant fear of a frightening turn of events, can relate to quite easily - more easily than we would like.
What is your definition of an "independent film"•?
I think I will have to say an independent film is a film that was done for the right reasons. Because someone had to make it. Because a story had to be told.
What are some of your all-time favorite films, and why?
I am a big Robert Altman fan, and of course a big Pedro Almodovar fan. And I loved Ingmar Bergman's movies. Come to think of it, I love so many film makers who inspired me.
As my two favorite films I would have to mention "McCabe and Ms. Miller" by Altman and "The Stolen Children," an Italian movie by Giani Amelio.
Please share an achievement from your career so far.
This spring I had a really touching moment. At the Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in Turin, I met Giani Amelio who came there as a guest. I told him what a big fan of his movie I am, and how I've been trying for years now to get a subtitled DVD of it. Turns out it was just re-released in Italy, and the next day he went to the FNAC store and bought me a copy. I'm not exaggerating when I say I had tears in my eyes.