Director Ram Loevy looks back, and ahead

Loevy's first feature film, The Dead of Jaffa, will open in theaters throughout Israel on January 30

RAM LOEVY: When you write a script, you work on the nuances.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
RAM LOEVY: When you write a script, you work on the nuances.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel-Prize winning filmmaker Ram Loevy, who is known for his outstanding television movies, has just made his first feature film, The Dead of Jaffa, which opens in theaters throughout Israel on January 30. Loevy, 79, was low key and contemplative as he looked back on his long career in an interview at his home in Ramat Gan last week.
While he is happy that The Dead of Jaffa is being released, he was sorry that Gilad Evron, who wrote the script with him, isn’t here to celebrate with him. Evron passed away in 2016, long before Loevy filmed the movie, which had its world premiere at the Jerusalem Film Festival last summer.
“Gilad came to me with the idea for the film,” said Loevy. It tells the story of an Arab family in Jaffa, an older storekeeper named George (Yussuf Abu-Warda, one of Israel’s veteran and most distinguished actors) and his younger wife, Rita (Ruba Blal Asfour, who recently starred in the series Our Boys), who is troubled and has never had children. Loevy describes her simply as “special,” but many might characterize her as having mental problems.
One day, three children from a village in the West Bank show up on her doorstep, claiming to be distant relatives of George’s and saying that their father has been imprisoned for life. Rita is delighted to take them in, seeing them as the children she couldn’t have herself, but George is more cautious, not sure he wants them in his life and also doubtful Rita is up to the job of raising them.
While they are trying to figure out what to do, their neighborhood is turned upside down by the arrival of a British film crew making a movie about a romance between two Brits in Jaffa in the 1940s. The director meets George by chance and instantly casts him in a key role as a doctor who gets killed when treating the young British woman. The director is focused on the past but seems clueless about the present, and is taken by surprise when a demonstration he stages in the film touches on anger felt by present-day Arabs and turns violent.
The film works both as a contemporary drama and a meditation on how the past informs the present.
“Gilad lived in Jaffa,” said Loevy. “Once a film crew wanted to use his house for a movie and he got the idea for this story.”
The movie conveys the small-town feeling of a Jaffa neighborhood, which was inspired by Evron’s own observations of his neighbors. He and Loevy worked on the script for 13 years, producing 30 drafts.
“When you write a script, you work on the nuances. We had the general story but we needed to sharpen it, to make it more personal and also more accessible.”
While the film’s perspective is clearly critical of Israeli policies and involves a tragedy, Loevy was trying to make more than a political statement. “It’s important that it isn’t just seen as a condemnation of Israeli society. It’s more complex.”
The film opens with an anecdote about a cemetery in Jaffa sliding into the sea, and the story is a metaphor for how the dead haunt and also inspire the living, bringing to mind the William Faulkner quote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
EVRON, WHO suffered shell shock in the Yom Kippur War and had experienced health problems ever since, insisted on this uncommercial underpinning, the overarching metaphor about Jaffa’s dead, and suffered a fatal heart attack following an argument with a producer who wanted to change the title to West Jaffa.
“I knew after that, that no matter what, I had to keep the title he wanted,” said Loevy.
Evron and Loevy had collaborated before, on movies that were similarly uncommercial, such as the 1986 television film Bread, which they wrote with Meir Doron and which Loevy directed. One of the best movies of that era, it starred Etti Ankri, before she became a popular singer, as the daughter of a factory worker (Rami Danon) who goes on a hunger strike when an industrial bakery in a development town closes. Loevy said the film also went through many drafts before they got it right. It won Prix Italia, an unusual accomplishment for an Israeli film of that era.
Loevy is also known for producing My Name is Ahmad, a 1966 documentary about an Arab laborer that was the first time an Arab had been front and center in an Israeli film. In 2019, the Jerusalem Sam Spiegel School for Film and Television made a movie, The Voice of Ahmad, featuring short films inspired by the original film. One of the filmmakers followed Loevy on the set of his new film and showed him talking about his hopes for the creation of a joint Jewish-Arab film industry in Jaffa.
Loevy has a family tradition of using of using writing to influence reality. His father, Theodor Loevy, was a journalist at Danziger Echo, a Jewish newspaper in Danzig. He was expelled just ahead of World War II and came to Palestine, where Loevy was born shortly afterward.
Loevy, who is married to Zipora, his childhood sweetheart, and who is a proud father and grandfather, studied economics and political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but was drawn to filmmaking after seeing Fellini’s classic, 8½. He was studying at a film school in London when the Six Day War broke out and he returned to Israel as fast as he could. After the war, he continued this studies but returned to Israel to help set up the Israel Broadcasting Authority and Channel One in the late Sixties.
The recent blossoming of Israel’s entertainment industry fills him with optimism and he is proud of his role in it as a filmmaker and a teacher – he has taught at several films schools over the years – saying, “It was my dream that Israeli films would be seen all over the world, that they would be so good.”
Always generous, he spoke about Eli Zohar, a distinguished lawyer who passed away earlier this month, and who spearheaded the Israeli Cinema Law in 2001 that changed the industry.
Loevy, who plans to take it easy and spend time with his grandchildren now that the film is finished, feels that The Dead of Jaffa could touch a chord with audiences in this very divided time.
“I hope the film tells a human story that everyone can relate to,” he said.