ANNE JOSEPH

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - SHORTS

AGOOD SHORT film needs to grab the au­di­ence from the open­ing mo­ment and just not let go for 20 min­utes,” says award-win­ning Amer­i­can-Is­raeli film-maker, Lior Geller. An alum­nus of the Steve Tisch School of Film and Tele­vi­sion at Tel Aviv Univer­sity (TAU), Geller says that this is what he tried to achieve with Roads, his 2007 grad­u­ate short film, which has played at over 100 in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­vals, earn­ing him a Guin­ness World Record for the most highly dec­o­rated stu­dent film of all time and an Academy Award nom­i­na­tion. Set in the drug-rid­den Arab slums of Lod, it fo­cuses on 13-year-old Is­mayil, who is try­ing to find a way out of the neigh­bour­hood for him­self and his younger brother. When a trau­ma­tised Is­raeli ex-soldier comes to buy drugs, an un­usual op­por­tu­nity arises.

Roads was screened in the UK in 2008, as part of Tel Aviv Univer­sity Trust’s an­nual Night at the Movies. The event, now in its 10th year, show­cases films made by stu­dents at the Tisch film school and Lon­don au­di­ences will have the op­por­tu­nity to watch the fast­paced film again at this year’s gala, which will be held next week at BAFTA.

“To cel­e­brate our 10th an­niver­sary, we wanted to in­clude a film from the ar­chive,” ex­plains the trust’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Cara Case. “Choos­ing Roads made the most sense. The qual­ity of the film-mak­ing and the fact that it presents so­cial and po­lit­i­cal is­sues which still res­onate to­day meant it was a stand-out choice.”

Short films are of­ten screened at film fes­ti­vals and are pre­dom­i­nantly made by stu­dents or in­de­pen­dent film-mak­ers on a low bud­get. The art form does not get the aca­demic or pub­lic at­ten­tion that it should, says Amir Tausinger, pro­duc­tion co-or­di­na­tor and tu­tor at the Steve Tisch School. “It’s not like lit­er­a­ture, where the best short-story writers are con­sid­ered mas­ters.”

He be­lieves the form can be lib­er­at­ing for a film-maker, en­abling its cre­ator to ex­per­i­ment in a way that they might not have the chance to do with a fea­ture.

“You don’t have a pro­ducer or a net­work mak­ing de­mands on you. There are no box-of­fice ex­pec­ta­tions,” he says. At the film school, stu­dents are en­cour­aged to try and make “what­ever they want, what­ever they dream of be­cause they won’t have many op­por­tu­ni­ties to do this out­side.”

But a suc­cess­ful stu­dent short can help launch ca­reers. Lior Geller ac­knowl­edges that Roads brought him to LA, where he now lives and works — he cur­rently has three films in de­vel­op­ment.

Tas­nim, writer/di­rec­tor Elite Zexer’s 12-minute film about a young Be­douin girl, was made as part of Coffee, an Is­raeli-Pales­tinian un­der­grad­u­ate project at TAU. “Her case is a won­der­ful demon­stra­tion of how a worl­drenowned stu­dent short film led to the mak­ing of her [de­but] fea­ture, Sand Storm, which is ba­si­cally an elab­o­ra­tion of her short,” says Tausinger. Sand Storm was se­lected as Is­rael’s 2017 Os­car en­try for Best For­eign Lan­guage Film.

An­other TAU grad­u­ate, doc­u­men­tary film-maker, Maya Sar­faty, won a stu­dent Os­car in 2016 for her film, The Most Beau­ti­ful Woman, which tells the tragic, true story of a love af­fair be­tween a teenage Jewish in­mate in Auschwitz and SS of­fi­cer Franz Wun­sch. At the time, she did not think win­ning was so important but the award gave the story pub­lic­ity, en­dorsed her pro­fes­sion­ally and sub­se­quently opened doors to fi­nanciers and pro­duc­ers. “It’s like I’m com­ing with an in­sur­ance cer­tifi­cate now,” she says. Sar­faty is work­ing on a full-length ver­sion of the film with Yes Doco, the Is­raeli doc­u­men­tary chan­nel.

Short film can also have ed­u­ca­tional value and pur­pose, says Sar­faty. The Most Beau­ti­ful Woman fo­cuses on a rarely ex­plored — and taboo — as­pect of the Holo­caust, rais­ing moral is­sues for its view­ers. For these rea­sons, she in­tends to show the film to high­school stu­dents in Is­rael.

Mak­ing a short film presents spe­cific chal­lenges, which can make it harder to make than a fea­ture. Ac­cord­ing to Elite Zexer, “the shorter the film, the less time you have for plot and char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment.

“Writ­ing is not an easy task. You have to cre­ate char­ac­ters as deep as pos­si­ble and a world as lay­ered and com­plex as you can mas­ter. You have to make your point very ef­fi­ciently and ef­fec­tively. You must be ex­tremely pre­cise with ev­ery move­ment, with ev­ery word the char­ac­ter says.” Tausinger agrees: “Some­times you have to tell the whole back­ground to your story in 30 seconds, which in a fea­ture would take you an act. With a short, you need to learn to think in a con­densed man­ner — you need to think about de­scrib­ing one mo­ment and the whole short has to serve this one mo­ment. Ba­si­cally, you can­not de­scribe a life. It’s a dif­fer­ent mind­set and dif­fi­cult [to achieve.]” Sar­faty likens the process to po­etry. “You have short sen­tences and ev­ery shot is [vi­tal] — it forces you to be [ex­act].”

The dif­fi­cul­ties of pre­ci­sion ex­tend to edit­ing too. “A lot of ma­te­rial for The Most Beau­ti­ful Woman was left on the edit­ing room floor and it was a long process for me to let go, to un­der­stand it’s OK, that it was good for the film,” ad­mits Sar­faty.

How­ever, shorts are be­com­ing longer, says Tausinger, due to digital tech­nol­ogy. He re­calls that, 15 years ago, stu­dents re­ceived 10 min­utes of film stock that was used to make two-, three- or four-minute ex­er­cises. “You treated your ma­te­rial like it was some­thing holy. Ev­ery take had to be cor­rect. Now, your only limit is your time.”

‘Roads’ and ‘The Most Beau­ti­ful Woman’ are two of the films in­cluded in Tel Aviv Univer­sity Trust’s ‘Night at the Movies’ on 7 March at BAFTA. www.tau-trust.co.uk

A scene from Lior Geller’s

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