Stepping outside the frame

Ohad Milstein’s provocative documentary "Four Variations on Detachment" looks at alternative lifestyles, with surprising results.

Avshi Yaaran on his goat farm in the film ‘Four Variations on Detachment.’ Inset: director Ohad Milstein. (photo credit: OHAD MILSTEIN)
Avshi Yaaran on his goat farm in the film ‘Four Variations on Detachment.’ Inset: director Ohad Milstein.
(photo credit: OHAD MILSTEIN)
We all talk about “getting away from it all” from time to time, don’t we? Ohad Milstein’s intriguing documentary Four Variations on Detachment, which will screen at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque Thursday night (8 p.m.) as part of this year’s DocAviv Festival, features three individuals and a family who all engage in activities, or have a lifestyle, which places them outside the main flux of everyday life. The film is one of the seven entries in the festival’s Depth of Field competition.
Milstein clearly aimed to proffer as wide a range as possible of alternative takes on life, and the four featured stories focus on a butterfly hunter, a man with a robotic arm, a family that runs a self-sustaining farm in the middle of the forest and a taxidermist who specializes in pets.
Curiously, the film opens with a brief visit to the Survey of Israel, which houses a repository of maps of the country dating back over the centuries. We are shown glimpses of a number of historic works while a member of the staff advises us of the importance of maps, and how they have been utilized over the years for various vested interests.
“Throughout history, maps primarily served the interests of the government,” says the Survey of Israel employee. “We plan through maps, we manage the country’s principle resources – land – by using maps, and the state, or central authority, exercises its powers through the use of maps.... The person who pays for the map has the power to decide what appears on the map, and what is excluded.”
The cartography element, says Milstein, featured strongly in his approach to the subject matter. “We wanted to draw a map of Israeli society, based on the people who live on its edges,” explains the director, “just like we make geographic or demographic maps, and we delineate the borders of the country.”
Milstein says the mapping analogy holds for his line of work in general. “I think there are a lot of common denominators between making a map and making a documentary film. Every shot or scene I film in fact determines a point in time, just like a map. And a documentary often covers areas that are dictated by the person who commissions the film.”
That naturally conveys a sense of the highly centralized, almost omnipotent, mode of governing life in this country and, out of the four slots in Four Variations on Detachment, it is the story about the Yaaran family that flies in the face of such a governmental mindset. Bar and Avshi Yaaran live on a goat farm in the Jerusalem Hills, close to the Stalactite Cave. They established the farmstead around 20 years ago, brought up their five children there, and produce and sell cheeses from a small shop on the premises. The added value of the family venture, as far as the various authorities are concerned – these include the Israel Land Authority, the JNF and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) – is the fact that the Yaarans’ daily herding activities help to keep the natural vegetation under control, and thereby reduces the risk of forest fires.
Incidentally, one of the proposals made to the committee that investigated the disastrous conflagration on Mount Carmel in 2010 was that allowing animals to eat away at the undergrowth could help to prevent future similar disasters.
As far as the Yaaran couple is concerned it is about choosing a way of life.
“The idea of a country in which everyone is related to, by the authorities, in exactly the same way, that everyone has to operate with the same means, that we are beasts in the same herd... I want to be my own shepherd,” declares Bar Yaaran.
Milstein’s other choices stretch the non-mainstream definition beyond the basic understanding of the term. None of them lives literally on the margins of society like the Yaarans, but they all have their own unique element.
“They are utterly engrossed in what they do, and that sets them apart from the mainstream,” says Milstein. In fact all the societal outsiders are frank about their unorthodox activities or way of life which, presumably, is testament to the director’s ability to make them feel at ease.
“It was a long process, to win the interviewees’ confidence,” he notes. “I visited the Yaaran family five or six times before I started filing there. It was important to gain their trust, and also to understand the dynamics of life there.”
“I went for people who live on the interface between the natural and the artificial,” says Milstein. “Some live a very natural life, some are very engaged in artificial things, and some engage in both worlds. The taxidermist combines natural things with an artificial process.”
Interestingly the characters are not introduced personally during the course of the film, and their names only appear in the closing credits.
“The personal specifics of the interviewees are not important,” explains Milstein. “It is the general concept that is the important.”
For tickets and more information about the DocAviv Festival: (03) 624-1797 and