Nitzan Zifrut was 18 when she was obligated, as are all Israeli men and women, to join the country’s military service. During the two years she served, she said, she had to put on a mask of toughness in order to survive. “As every human with a gentle soul being compelled to become part of military enviroment, I had to leave my gentleness in a box and keep it away from me,” she explained. “And the same with my femininity.”
Indiewire met Zifrut at the 2015 Locarno International Film Festival, where she was participating in its annual Filmmakers Academy — and where her first film “Stationed,” inspired by her military service, was shown at a private Academy Meeting. The film will have its International Premiere at the San Sebastian Film Festival in September.
Zifrut explained how she came to filmmaking after a tortuous path. Following her military service, she traveled from Panama to Guatemala in — perhaps an effort, she said, to find her former self. Upon returning to Israel, Nitzan headed to buzzing Tel Aviv, working as a bartender until she decided to become a writer and eventually was accepted into a screenwriting program at Sapir Academic College. She dropped everything, moved to the South of Israel and found a much slower pace of life.
The first year, she said, “I didn’t know what to do with myself.” She then discovered a new passion for cinema and soon after was ready to start her first film project. She said she needed the solitude of the south to “hear my inside voice – that’s not possible if it’s too loud outside.” Today, Nitzan lives in a Kibbutz in Nir-Am, next to the Gaza Strip, with about 100 other families.
“Stationed,” a 24-minute film, was her graduation film and it took her one year of work. It tells the story of Ruthie, an Israeli girl in a military base in Hebron, struggling to fit in, because there is no space for her in this environment, no room for femininity.
To make a movie, Nitzan said, is challenging enough, but working with the military is even harder. “It’s like the whole universe stands up against you to make you fail. If the Israeli military is part of that universe, things get really tricky,” she explained. All of her requests for collaboration or support, financially and otherwise, were denied. The consequence: Her graduation-project became a guerilla project.
The film was realized with the help of a bank loan plus 15 “strongly committed” crew-members, according to Nitzan. She was aware that she would not see any of the invested money again, but she had a story to tell. “It’s my personal story,” Nitzan said. “Instead of going to a therapy, I did this film. Now I have my box back.”
In order to create an authentic scenery, the crew had to steal some of the equipment. “It was crucial to create an authentic scenery,” Nitzan said, “You can’t fake it for the Israeli audience, they won’t buy it.” Without authorization to do so, an officer friend helped her organize some of the necessary military props. “Things like helmets or IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) bulletproof vests are hard to find,” she said.
The film was shot in various locations, a few of them real military sites like the sanitary facilities. Though it was not possible to shoot in the original military base in Hebron in the West Bank, where the story takes place, Nitzan and the sound designer hitchhiked with a Jewish settler from Jerusalem to Hebron and managed to sneak into the base with a zoom device to record original sound. The Muslim prayers heard in the movie are authentic. The exterior scenes were shot in a abandoned post site in an Arab village, where they were granted unauthorized access by the same officer who pretended to be using it for training with his unit.
Doing a film under the radar meant that adrenaline rushes were a regular experience. “You never know at the beginning of the day what you will get,” she said. “It can be scary.”
In the year since the film was finished, Nitzan has been working as a set designer and attending Israeli film festivals. She’s already preparing for a new short film with another focus on the same subject: life in a military defense tower which has not been abandoned since 1948. “After this, maybe, I will be ready for a first feature film,” she said.