At 77 he hasn’t figured out what keeps him active, full of energy and knowledgeable. Israeli filmmaker, Dan Wolman, the recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award is delighted to be here, especially as his country is in focus at the 49th International Film Festival of India. NT BUZZ gets talking with him
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With over 50 years of filmmaking, Dan Wolman, a pioneer in Israel, started out with making short films and documentaries in the 60’s. His first film ‘The Dreamer’ (1970) made it to the competition at the Cannes Film Festival that year. Always sailing against the tide, he made movies on bold themes like old age, prostitution, when movies for the masses were the order of the day.
Excerpts from an interview
- As a director, you haven’t limited yourself to one way of storytelling, but diversified into theatre, short films and documentaries as well. What remains the most expressive medium for you?
Everywhere people talk about ‘the best thing’. There are authors who write poetry and novels. As a filmmaker I just made a short film in Delhi. So, you can’t really choose, but the content chooses you. It is the kind of story that it calls for. So you can’t really say that this or that is important, that one is more important than the other. But, I also guess feature films get more attention. The last film I made ‘An Israeli Love Story’ that I travelled with to Chile, Guatemala, Africa, India and China. It’s difficult to travel so far and wide with a play. For me there is something about cinema. And while I know a little bit about music and other things, feature film is my forte.
Q.In all your films you focus on the emotions of characters and this is shown sensitively, be it the 70-year-old Floch (Floch, 1972) who desperately wants a descendant to carry forward his name after losing his son; or the 50-year-old Naomi (Foreign Sister, 2000) who is well settled, but is collapsing under the ordinariness of her successful life. Comment.
I was always been the sensitive one, while others were aggressive. And when people pay more attention to one thing and others pay attention to the opposite, I look for little details; it is part of my nature. So, while other filmmakers make action films, I want to tell human stories. I wouldn’t turn down an offer to make a film on karate or a Bollywood film, but if someone asks me to make an interesting human film, it would be a natural choice to do it.
Q.You’ve travelled with your films to India before and have been a supporter of Indian cinema. How have you seen our cinema evolve over the years?
Bollywood is the heart of the film industry in India. And when you have the money, it is easy to get talented actors and writers. But, on the other had a lot of artistic films are also being made. And with the development of digital cinema compared to the cinema rolls used in the past, it is rather inexpensive to make films. It is a much better period for Indian cinema as several film-crazy-makers are experimenting to do some something they feel for. The struggle lies in getting a screen to show the film.
Q.What was it about filmmaking that made you decide to be a filmmaker, especially in Israel, when the country was grappling with issues?
It has nothing to do with the logical decision of choosing a career of your choice or something lucrative. I never chose between something that would be more lucrative. As a child and teenager I saw films and there was something about it that attracted me. I then saw an Italian film ‘Miracle Illa’ that left me speechless for three days; it was so powerful. It was that power that got hold of me. And at the beginning of my career, at 18, before I went to study cinema, people around me said, films weren’t my cup of tea, as I was shy, and would sweat while talking to people. They never expected me to make films. It wasn’t a choice to be a filmmaker; I was kidnapped by the power of cinema and stories. I think the obstacle, problems and things people see as difficulties were also an attraction, for the people who seem weak are in fact daring.
Q.We hear about Israel in the news, rarely for its cinema except during film festivals. Can you share with us an account of the film culture there?
Israel is very young country that got independence a year after India. While in other nations people have been making films from the beginning, in Israel there have been a handful of good films that stood out. But, 15-20 years ago a film law was passed due to the protests of filmmakers who found it difficult to make money out of films, as the country is small and because of its nature and language. They demanded to be treated differently, and not like a regular industry as it merges art and culture. Thus, the government channelises money from commercial programmes through taxes to the film foundations which select films to be financed. However, the money isn’t enough, but it has helped young and women directors. So while over 100 filmmakers submit their scripts, barely 2 or 3 get the money and the proportion is good for the industry to flourish.
Q.At 77, do you believe you’ve achieved enough; are you hungry for more?
I don’t look at my life as achieving anything at all. There are some films I have made that I would like to burn. Sometimes you make a film for a living and thus choose any topic. The child in me is still thirsty to make films and thus it’s not about having achieved enough.
Q.You’ve received several awards, what significance do they have in your life?
It’s the same… of course, it helps you make the next film; but sometimes it is required as people have different attitudes to your films that depend on reviews, so yes such awards create that influence and change people’s attitudes.