Director of Oscar-shortlisted film ‘White Eye’ looks back on year

"Israel is the only country in the world that speaks Hebrew, and people all over the world saw this film in Hebrew and it touched their hearts."

A scene from the Israeli Oscar-shortlisted short film 'White Eye.' (photo credit: Courtesy)
A scene from the Israeli Oscar-shortlisted short film 'White Eye.'
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 Tomer Shushan, the Israeli director whose film White Eye made the short list for the Live Action Short Film Oscar category last week, said that while his film has gone around the world this year, he has been in Tel Aviv the whole time.
“All your life, you dream of presenting your film at festivals. But the festivals this year have been mostly online, and the ones that weren’t I couldn’t travel to them,” he said.
But he’s not complaining. His film picked up some important prizes all over the world, including the Grand Jury Award at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, which meant it qualified to be considered for the Oscars. Closer to home, it won the 2020 Best Short Film Award at the Haifa International Film Festival, as well as 23 other international awards.
“I’m super happy and I feel very glad as a storyteller and filmmaker. Israel is the only country in the world that speaks Hebrew, and people all over the world saw this film in Hebrew and it touched their hearts,” he said.
The movie, which is shot in one take, tells an intense story about the night-time odyssey of a young man in south Tel Aviv – “motivated by adrenaline and no common sense” – who comes across a locked bike that was stolen from him recently. He identifies it as his from dents and stickers and is determined to get it back.
But to do this, he has to get involved both with some African migrant laborers who work in a meat processing plant and two not-very-helpful policemen “who end up harming the most innocent person.”
The briskly told tale plays like a snapshot of nocturnal Tel Aviv, with a prostitute soliciting customers in the background and hipsters who run a bar/performance space also taking part in the drama.
“I was trying to build a world that looks shady and urban,” he said.
The protagonist is played by Daniel Gad, who is currently appearing in the Keshet series Line in the Sand, and who starred in The Dove Flyer and Shababnikim (also known as The New Black), the series about mischievous ultra-Orthodox youth.
Gad’s character, who can think only about getting the bike back, makes some blunders that could have tragic consequences.
“Not all of it but most of it really happened to me,” said Shushan. “I was about to meet my mentor, we were about to finalize another script, and then this story happened to me while I was on the way to see him.”
He told his mentor about the incident and then he wrote it up in 40 minutes and applied for filmmaking grants. The Makor Foundation for Israeli Film and Television provided the support he needed to make the film.
“The story came from my heart and my instincts,” he said. “When it was happening, I really couldn’t stop and breathe, I couldn’t think about what I was doing.”
He chose to shoot it in one take, after he tried making it the conventional way, with multiple shots, but realized that that wasn’t right. “I wanted that the audience will feel the same way I did, and one shot does that. There are no cuts that let you breathe.”
He acknowledged his debt to the most famous film about a stolen bike in history, Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist classic The Bicycle Thief. “Yes, I was influenced by it, not just the topic but how it’s made, the way it was directed” in the streets and with a mostly nonprofessional cast.
SHUSHAN IS currently at work on a feature film script and a television series with a Holocaust theme. His feature film will touch on some of the same themes from White Eye.
“It will be a lot of characters who expose all the layers of society,” he said.
He is hoping for the best when the Oscar nominations are announced on March 15, when five films from the short list will receive nods. But after this past year, he has learned not to try to predict anything, either for good or for bad.