Israeli zombies invade the big screen

The walking dead take a bite out of the Middle East in Eitan Gafny’s ‘Cannon Fodder.’

Yafit Shalev in 'Cannon Fodder.' (photo credit: WHITE BEACH PRODUCTIONS)
Yafit Shalev in 'Cannon Fodder.'
Israel is a small country surrounded by enemies, but up until now, they were all human enemies. With the release this week of Eitan Gafny’s Cannon Fodder, Israel now has its own zombies.
“We wanted to make something very commercial, a real genre thriller. About once a decade, genre movies come close to the mainstream, and with zombies, this moment is now,” says Gafny.
The tagline of this cleverly conceived film, which was done on a shoestring budget compared to American movies, is “There’s a New Conflict in the Middle East.”
Cannon Fodder puts the war-torn Middle East front and center in this story of a special- ops IDF unit and its commander, Doron Geva (Liron Levo), who are fighting in South Lebanon when they come across zombies, who threaten all humans equally.
Gafny’s wife, Yafit Shalev, plays the female lead and is also, along with Tom Goldwasser, Gafny’s producing partner.
“It’s both a classic zombie film that is set in the Middle East, and also, at the same time, something specifically Middle Eastern.
We wanted to bring something fresh to the genre, to bring something new, so we put in the Middle Eastern conflict very strongly, and we have Ethiopian characters and ultra-Orthodox characters,” he says.
But in spite of the differences between Cannon Fodder and American zombie flicks, it’s still squarely a part of the genre.
“We wanted to take clichés, and the rules of the genre, and play with them,” says Gafny.
Audiences around the world have been warming to the film, which has been shown at 25 film festivals all over the world, including London FrightFest Film Festival. It is being distributed internationally by Screen Media and will be available as a DVD and V.O.D. selection in the US soon.
“In England, people called us Hebrew Horror,” says Gafny, of the budding genre, that also includes the two popular horror/psychological thrillers by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, Rabies and Big Bad Wolves.
Gafny admits that “we were surprised by the positive reception in London because we had heard people are very anti-Israeli there. But with Cannon Fodder, people can interpret the politics either way, either right wing or left wing. It’s very easy to see what you want in it.”
The young director, who studied film at Tel Aviv University and who has directed commercials and short films, says, “There is a new generation of directors who, like me, are in their thirties and grew up with Hollywood movies of the Eighties and we want to make those kinds of movies.”
He is the first person in his family to be bitten by the showbiz bug, and his day job, which he is keeping for now, is teaching filmmaking to high-school students.
Cannon Fodder has come along at a time when zombies are running rampant in popular culture. Vampires are so 2007, but the highest rated cable show in the US is now The Walking Dead, which gets about 16 million viewers per episode. A talk-show that follows each episode, Talking Dead, is seen by a bigger audience than almost any network TV show. The Resurrection is a new ABC television series about people who return from the dead looking exactly as they did when they were alive, and is thematically almost identical to the terrifying French series The Returned, which was an international hit last year.
The novel World War Z by Max Brooks (Mel Brooks’ son), was a bestseller, and the hit movie based on it, which starred Brad Pitt, had scenes set in Israel and co-starred an Israeli actress, Daniella Kertesz. But that was an international production.
Gafny is excited to be part of this, and admits that the film’s Israeli release was timed to coincide with the final episodes of season four of The Walking Dead. However, he’s going to graduate from zombies to another kind of genre movie with his next film, which he’s working on now.
He won’t say exactly what it’s about, but is happy with all the excitement surrounding the release of Cannon Fodder.
“People can see now that there’s a place for all kinds of movies in Israel, not just serious dramas,” he says.