I am a camera

Filmmaker Tomer Heymann turns the lens on himself and pares his life down to the bone in the hour-long documentary ‘I Shot My Love.’

Tomer Heymann (photo credit: Yanay Yechiel)
Tomer Heymann
(photo credit: Yanay Yechiel)
Films, particularly documentaries, stir up the tension between fiction and reality. For director Tomer Heymann (Paper Dolls, It Kinda Scares Me), this tension is an inherent part of life. For 15 years Heymann had been toting his camera nearly everywhere, frenetically capturing his most private moments on tape.
Last year, he edited 720 hours of raw footage into a very personal eight-hour TV show, Coming Home.
Now he’s releasing an even more concise version of his life in the one-hour documentary I Shot My Love.
This film, which is now being shown at various international film festivals, focuses on the relationship triangle of himself, his mother Noa Heymann, and his German life-partner Andreas Mark, who moved to Israel to live with Tomer.
How do you take 720 hours of your life and render them into an hour-long story?Distancing myself from the raw material is the key here. It might sound paradoxical but in the editing room, where my films are actually being made, I must be completely unemotional in order to evoke emotions. At the same time, I must commit myself to the story I want to tell rather than to the reality. The film has to intensify reality and process it into a story that can touch other people. Bearing the story in mind, it’s easier to sort out the relevant footage for the particular film you want to make and keep away from the danger of losing yourself in the material, or worse, falling in love with it.
In the opening shot of the film, you show your mother half naked in the bathroom. When the material is so intimately revealing, how far do you allow yourself to go for the sake of the story? I’ll never put in anything that humiliates or abuses the characters. I deeply love and respect them. Since this film is particularly revealing, some people mistake its candidness for disrespect. I know far less revealing films that parade their characters, albeit properly dressed, with real contempt.
Watching your film, one might get the impression that you don’t know how to live without a camera.I do have an off-camera life. I’ve had plenty of intimate moments with my mother and Andreas, off camera.But clearly, it was my directorial decision to create this Tomer character that’s completely incapable of intimacy without a camera. I admit, the camera was an unhinged, irrepressible passion of mine. But it was also part of the story that I chose to tell.
When did this filmmaking passion start? It’s like asking when you had your first erection. I don’t remember. I think I had the sense of manipulating reality long before I had a camera. I remember as a kid, there was this period of broody tension in my family, especially between my parents. When it surfaced during dinners, I would go to the bathroom and hide there until things cooled down a bit. I was physically overwhelmed by this nervous and angry atmosphere, and by hiding in the bathroom I actually edited the whole scene out.
Your mother appears to be quite the star of your film. The audience really falls for her. Yet there’s an undercurrent of testy resentment on your part towards her. Can you elaborate on these conflicting dispositions? There’s a part of my mother that is emotionally manipulative in relation to her children. Most people don’t see it in the film – they see her as the strong mother figure and a very touching character. But I see her on different levels, and I can read her occasional manipulations, prioritizing her own happiness over that of her children.
How did the release of the film change your life and that of the people you filmed? For one, I’m not filming my life anymore. Everyone around me, including myself, has become too selfconscious.It wasn’t an easy experience, but we all gained a lot from it. My mother had the chance to review her life quite thoroughly. She was never too confident about herself. Suddenly, she receives this overwhelming love and admiration from the audience. She lost 15 kilos and now looks unbelievably amazing.Another amazing thing happened to Andreas. In the film, Andreas shares his memories of a traumatic relationship he had had with an abusive priest. All his life Andreas had waited for his parents to acknowledge the abuse he had gone through, but they never did. It wasn’t until the film had been screened in Germany that Andreas’s father demanded that the priest be investigated.
Your directing style is very distinct, for which you’ve been often praised but sometimes criticized. How do you deal with criticism? My favorite artists are those you recognize by their distinct imprint before seeing their name. I love it that some people are moved by my films, while others find them a disgrace. If my films were a consensus, I’d start suspecting something was wrong with them.