The IndiVision screenings are a showcase of international low-budget cinema, presented annually by the AFC to excite Australian filmmakers and A$iences about the possibilities of the low-budget realm. This year's screenings will open with Close to Home, produced by Marek Rozenbaum, one of the most dynamic producers of the current wave of Israeli cinema.
Rozenbaum has produced more than 20 features, including Mon Tresor (aka Or), which featured in last year's IndiVision screenings. He makes many of his films for under A$2million, often shooting on digital formats. His production and distribution company, Transfax, produces several features and documentaries every year, frequently in co-production with European partners. His record is outstanding: Mon Tresor was selected for Director's Fortnight at Cannes and won the Caméra d'Or, Avanim won the French Culture Award at Cannes, Live and Become won both the Panorama and Jury prizes at Berlin, and To Take a Wife won the A$ience award at Venice.
His latest film, Close to Home, has just been selected for Berlin 2006. It's a striking and contemporary look at occupation, told through the eyes of two young female soldiers on patrol in Jerusalem. It was shot on HD over 21 days, for a budget of around A$875,000.
Marek speaks here to IndiVision Project Lab director Megan Simpson Huberman.
MSH: How did you come to be involved in Close to Home?
Directors Dalia Hager and Vidi Bilu approached me in early 2003 with the project, which I liked very much. I was familiar with Dalia's work from her university graduation film [completed at Tel Aviv University]. However, at that time I was involved in many other projects and suggested that they approach another producer. They did not find another producer who liked the film enough, and decided in the end to come back to me. The script was finally accepted by the Israeli Film Fund for production at the end of 2003 but was waiting for production until the end of 2004, because we had to shoot in the winter, and because at the same time I was shooting three other films: Mon Tresor, To Take a Wife, and Live and Become.
How did the two writer/directors come to write the script, and what had they directed for the screen before?
Vidi Bilu herself was a soldier in a squat just like in the film, and the film is pretty much based on her own experience while serving in the Israeli Army. I do not know when Dalia and Vidi came to know each other and begun working on the script. Dalia Hager directed a film as part of her final university project, for which she won first prize…[it was] an 80-minute feature film called Summer at Erica's, which I came to know as one of the judges evaluating her project. I had been wanting to work with her ever since but we were looking for the right opportunity and a good script.
What do you see as the strongest qualities of the film?
The film is precise and sincere and gives a very special point of view on the reality of life in Israel.
How was the film financed? How are most low-budget feature films in Israel financed at the moment?
The major financing for the film came from the Israeli Film Fund [US$475,000/A$631,000] and from the Israel satellite platform YES [US$175,000/A$232,000]. Most of the films in Israel are funded with the help of the Israeli Film Fund as well as Israeli broadcasters.
What we call low-budget films here, up to US$300,000 [A$400,000], are often made without any public support. Commercial films receive funding from private resources such as distributors. I myself am on the board of directors of a group that is raising money on the stock market to invest in such projects. In 2005 we invested in three projects, as mentioned above.
Close to Home has high production values. We see lots of the streets of Jerusalem, there are crowd scenes, and the cast is quite big. How did you manage to make the film for such a low budget?
It was not an expensive cast. The actors are not very well known in Israel and that was a decision made out of the fact that the directors wanted to give the film a sense of maximum authenticity in the view of the A$ience.
Usually in most films you create the reality; however, in this case we chose to shoot in an almost documentary style, where we managed to interact with daily life in Jerusalem.
The film was shot on HD, on a Sony 950 video camera that attracts less attention from the people passing by on the streets. We worked with a small crew as well, with very little equipment on the set. In that way we could use the people passing by on the streets as 'actors' - except in the scene of the bombing where we controlled everything.
Mon Tresor was shot in Super 16mm; Close to Home was shot on HD. How do you feel about the comparison between the two formats? Is HD good to work with? The films looks great; do you feel you can get a good look in all situations with HD?
In both cases, the decision of the shooting format was the director's. As producers, we did not see any point in interfering in that decision as the cost eventually ends up the same. I personally think that directors should work with HD because they are then not limited by the amount of material they can shoot, and working with a video monitor is much faster than working with film.
Shooting on HD creates compressed colour problems, when the light is too strong outside, which can be a problem in Israel when shooting in the summer. But as we were shooting in winter we did not have that kind of problem.
Will shooting on HD make the film any harder to release?
No, on the contrary, at the end of the process you are left with the uncut negative which a print can be made out of directly. That way we can save the costs of interpos and interneg.
What do you have to do differently when working with first-time directors?
I very much like to work with first time directors - I find it more interesting. Usually there is a better comprehension between us as they are more ready to listen to and value the producer's opinion. Of course when working with first-time directors, the producer must provide help with finding cast and good crew.
Your company seems to be very successful. How many productions a year are you doing, and what's the secret of your success? Do you work with many different producers as well as different directors?
We produce two to three feature films a year as well as two to three documentary films a year. I really do not know the secret of my success; I guess you should ask the directors who are working with me. Maybe it is the good relations we keep while working on the film as well as after the shooting. The mutual trust as well.
Being one of the oldest production companies around in Israel, we do cooperate with other producers as partners on projects. A lot of producers worked with me as line producers on my films and that very much helped them continue in their own way as independent producers. We are always looking for new talent in the production industry.
What is the future for low-budget films internationally?
As long as art house cinemas exist there is a future for low-budget films. As long as TV channels such as SBS continue to support movies, low-budget films will continue to exist. In my view medium-budget films are likely to be in danger.
I believe that the more art house cinemas continue to develop, that will very much help low-budget films, because the art house cinemas will lower the distribution costs which will eventually lower the cost of production.
The IndiVision screenings will be held in Sydney 17-19 February at Dendy Newtown, and in Melbourne 24-26 February at Kino Dendy, with other states to follow.
Check out the full program of February's IndiVision screenings, including links to trailers and interviews with the filmmakers.