Dishing out the documentaries

Besides the upcoming TV airing of his film about a world-class competitive eater, seasoned filmmaker Igal Hecht has a lot more on his plate.

The irony is not lost on Toronto filmmaker Igal Hecht that after making 46 documentaries over the last decade or so – most of them focusing on Israel or Judaism – his first film to be aired on an Israeli TV channel has nothing at all to do with the country. Unless you consider that Israelis love to eat.
The Story of Furious Pete, Hecht’s latest film in collaboration with director George Tsioutsioulas, tells the story of Peter Czerwinski, a Canadian who at age 16 nearly died as a result of anorexia. Seven years later, not only has he recovered completely, but he’s gone on to become one of the world’s best competitive eaters.
“I felt very passionate about making the movie; the fact that it had no Israeli or Jewish content wasn’t really an issue for me,” said Hecht last week during a visit to Israel to film his latest project, a multi-part series on Israeli popular music for Shalom TV.
“Working on Pete was nice because, at the time, I was also filming a movie that’s coming out later this year on CBC – The Hilltops – all about settlers in Judea and Samaria. So it was a great break working on a film that has nothing to do with heavy political issues,” said the 31- year-old, Israeli-born filmmaker.
Calling it an “amazing human interest story,” Hecht said that Pete – which airs on January 20 at 10 p.m. on YES Docu – contains as many layers as one of his more complex films.
Aside from the irony of an anorexic, who almost died, becoming a competitive eater, there’s the whole story of Pete, who is a wonderful person. People may assume he’s a fat guy because he wins eating competitions and has gone from one extreme to the other. And that’s not really the case. He’s a very fit, muscular guy – body image is really important to him,” said Hecht.
“There’s also a subplot with his mother, who’s suffering from MS.
Pete uses his eating abilities to fundraise for MS research, something we discovered only after we started filming.”
Unlike most of Hecht’s projects, the film’s director Tsioutsioulas originally told him about Pete and brought him on board the project as producer, editor and co-cameraman.
Hecht began making his own documentaries in the late 1990s, the first called Parted, a look at two Canadian brothers, one who stayed in Toronto and one who went to Israel. Another film that received attention was The Yid, about the relationship between Israelis in Toronto and Canadian Jews. But it wasn’t until 2004 and his film Kassam, about Sderot, that Hecht made the leap from looking at Israel from the outside to diving head first into the storm. Since then, Hecht founded his own Chutzpah Productions, and Israel has become somewhat of a selfdescribed “obsession” for him, but not one that prevented him from seeing Pete for the great story it was.
With the tag line “He’s a natural born eater,” Pete was selected for the 2010 HOT DOCS film festival, along with many other festivals, and has aired on Canadian Television.
A heartwarming, life-affirming story combined with gross-out eating scenes that expand the limit of what you thought was humanly consumable, the film proves that Hecht is more than a onesubject filmmaker.
Of course, now that he’s gotten The Story of Furious Pete out of his system, it’s back to that other subject, Israel. However, Muzika, the series he’s here filming for international cable channel Shalom TV, also strays from his usual subject matter, focusing beyond the Israeli-Arab conflict.
“Having basically made all these political films, one thing I’m guilty of – and I think many other filmmakers coming here are as well – is looking only at the politics. It’s very easy to come here and do that, but there’s clearly so much more to Israel,” he said.
The 28-part series spotlights Israeli musical artists from the mainstream – David Broza, Ivry Lider and Idan Raichel – to the more esoteric – Yehuda Katz and Daniel Zamir.
“I’m just trying to show that there’s more than guns and wars in this country. There’s amazing music, there’s amazing culture, and I think that when people who don’t know Israel start watching the show, they’ll go, ‘Oh wow, this is cool.’ Their first image of Israel won’t be a suicide bomber or a checkpoint – it will be a musician.”