Upcoming filmmaker OMRI BURSTYN
wrote and directed the short film “At Dawn”, a coming of age story
set in the violence of present-day Israel. But before he even finished shooting the film,
the reality of the Middle East blew up in his face.
Born in 1985, Omri was
politically involved in human rights and peace movements during his youth.
Those experiences set the tone for his new short film. Here is what he has to say about the film and his experience.
Tell me a bit about the film.
“AT DAWN” deals with
present-day Israel; with revengeful acts of right and left winged extremists. It’s
a coming of age story set in a violent, racist society. In the film, we are
following a young teenager named ALI (Tawfeek Barhom). He is the sole
Palestinian-Israeli in a radical activist youth group. Ali is struggling to
impress Yael, a Jewish-Israeli member of the group, when a series of political
outbursts in the west bank lead him to a dangerous position.
Why did you chose to make a political film?
I wanted to tell a story about
apocalyptic-like right winged acts that encourage a young group of left wing
activists to respond with similar violence. I believe that through this set-up
I am able to tell the story of the REAL Israel. The way I look at it is
that everything here is politicized and this invokes the violent side of people.
It’s not that I think people here are inherently bad, nothing like that. I just
think this is what happens to a society that is in a war for so many generations.
You set the story inside a left wing youth group. Why
criticize the “peace people”?
This film is based on my experience as a member of
a political youth group during the second intifada. In our group, there was
only one Palestinian-Israeli. He was the sole Arab amongst us Israeli Jews. Having
an Arab among us seemed like an opportunity to live up to our ideals – to
pursue co-existence for real. My friends and I took him in happily, blind to
the built-in differences that stood between us. We always treated him as our
Arab friend, instead of just our friend.
Today, more than a decade later, I see things in a
different light and with a sense of criticism. I examine the violent approach that I was sometimes a part of. It’s a hidden violence, but It still existed. We had
good intentions, but we were unable to see what co-existence really means. I
believe that the only way to achieve peace in this country is to embrace
the differences amongst ourselves, our societies, and our cultures. These longings
are the roots of this film.
You cast Tawfeek Barhom as the lead actor. How did that
Tawfeek BARHOM is a
famous and acknowledged actor, but when we first met, it was just after he
finished shooting “A Borrowed Identity” by Eran Riklis. I had never seen him act before this. He read the script and reacted very emotionally — it was so
close to his own life. He immediately felt obligated to the story and the film — from that moment, I knew he was ALI. Tawfeek is one of the most interesting,
talented, deep and devoted actors in Israel today. Working with him was an
Was it hard to shoot this kind of story in Jerusalem?
It’s a powerful and intense city. The
last day of shooting was in downtown Jerusalem. It was a long and tiring day,
but we all were happy and excited to finish the production. I woke up the next
morning to hear sad news — there was a terror attack in the exact same place we
were shooting. We were lucky I guess. This is, in a nutshell, the painful story
of the Middle East — the reality here beats imagination every time.
How do people react to the film?
We have just finished the post-production
stage, and have received very good feedback so far. We do have some problems showing it in
Israel, due to the political nature of the film and its criticism towards
Israeli society. After all the violence and tension we’ve had this past year, there’s a
growing fear of voicing difficult questions. Politicians
are making it harder and harder to get stories like this out in Israel, putting
pressure on festivals and decision makers to hold back.
I hope we don’t run into censorship in Israel, and we still have our world
premiere in front of us. For me, this is a story of a
generation, born into a violent broken society. It’s a story that needs to be
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