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(photo credit: United King)
"It was amazing," director Oded Davidoff says of seeing his new film, Someone to Run With, projected on the giant screen before an audience of 6,000 at the Sultan's Pool Amphitheater at the opening of this year's Jerusalem Film Festival. It was the first time in the festival's 23-year history that an Israeli film has had the honor of opening the festival, and Davidoff, who was born and raised in Jerusalem, was very moved.
"I wasn't sure I would even enter it," he says. "And then, to find out it was being considered for the opening, and that it was chosen . . ." His voice trails off for a minute before he says, "That surprised me a lot."
Davidoff worried that because the film's premiere took place on a chilly night, people would not turn up or would leave early. "But they stayed. I could tell it was working for them," he says. When David Grossman, the author of the novel on which the movie was based, strolled on screen in a cameo in one scene, the audience burst into applause. "That was the moment that excited me the most," says Davidoff. He was also touched when audience members sang along with Tamar, the heroine, as she performs on street corners in the center of town. The film tells the separate but intertwined stories of two Jerusalem teenagers: Tamar, who is searching for her brother, a drug addict, in the center of town, and Assaf, who is trying to find Tamar and return her lost dog to her.
"It's a story that has many motifs," says Davidoff. "It's told like a myth." He and his cinematographer, Yaron Sherf, tried to emphasize the film's mythical quality and the dichotomy between the two stories by "strengthening the visual contrast between Assaf's story, which takes place mostly by day, and Tamar's nighttime story."
Tel Aviv, where Davidoff now lives (with his wife, Dafna Levin, one of the writers on hit television show Batipul, and their two children), is the capital of the Israeli movie industry, and was the setting of Davidoff's last film, Mars Turki ("Clean Sweep"), an offbeat gangster film. Only a handful of movies have been made in Jerusalem in recent years, among them Close to Home and Campfire. But more than in any of these other films, the city of Jerusalem emerges as a significant character in Someone to Run With.
"There was a consensus that this movie would have to be filmed in Jerusalem. The city is part of the story. It couldn't take place anywhere else," says Davidoff. "In Tel Aviv, you don't find the Breslavim (Breslav Hasidim) and the nuns in the street and the tension between all the cultures."
Davidoff lived in the Bukharan Quarter as a child, then moved to the then-new neighborhood of French Hill and later to the even newer Ramot. He says proudly, "I know the city, every street, every alley." His describes his screenwriter, Noah Stollman, as "a Jerusalemite who lives in New York."
He has fond memories of filming in Jerusalem. "In Tel Aviv it's gotten so that every day, somebody is filming a movie. People are jaded. That's not the case in Jerusalem. People were not cynical - they received us warmly." He also notes that Tel Aviv merchants whose shops are used in filming often try to extract a hefty profit, but that this was not the case in Jerusalem.
He knows that the film paints a dark picture of the lives of Jerusalem's young people, who are portrayed as lost, unsupervised and preyed upon by drug dealers. "There's nothing too harsh," he insists. "It's about two latchkey children. In the book, there is more explanation for why Tamar is alone." While filming scenes about a house run by a drug dealer who provides shelter to teens at the old Palace Hotel on Agron Street, his production team found evidence that the building had long been used as a place for drug addicts to crash, Davidoff says. "There was graffiti on the walls, clothes thrown all around," he says.
Since Someone to Run With opened the festival, Davidoff and his film have been subjected to a level of scrutiny he was unaccustomed to, and he has found the change a hard transition. "Critics wrote that I was influenced by the work of people [whose films] I've never seen . . . They said that foreign producers came in and insisted on certain things." None of this was true, he says.
Someone to Run With will soon be traveling to film festivals around the world, while Davidoff tries to choose a new project. One option he is considering is an Isaac Bashevis Singer story, another a period drama that would be filmed in English. But choosing which film to make next will be a harder decision that it was to adapt Someone. "As soon as I read it, I knew it would be a movie," he recalls. "I could imagine every place, every person."