LAILA IN HAIFA. Amos Gitai is an Israeli filmmaker who was trained as an architect. Born in 1950, and best known to the public for his film Kippur, shown at Cannes in 2000, Amos Gitai bases his work to a large extent on personal experience, including the Yom Kippur war and other historic events in Israel. His latest film Laila in Haifa is in the official competition of the Venice Film Festival 2020.
Amos Gitai, how did you spend the confinement period?
I came back from NY after the showing of several of my films at MOMA and the reading of my mother Efratia’s letters that were just published by the Primo Levi Center in New York. The event at the MOMA ended on March 9th. I had the occasion to meet some friends but immediately after the MOMA was closed and there were no connecting flights to Tel Aviv. We managed to get to Paris and spent the confinement in southern France. It was a good moment for writing. In spite of the general anxiety caused by the Coronavirus, I was able to work on two books. The first one, was to complete the work I did for College de France specially focusing on cinema, archive, and memory.
The second book that I was working on is associated with my multiple projects and my archive about the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin twenty-five years ago in November 1995. It will be published next year by Gallimard in Paris and La nave di Teseo in Milano on the occasion of a big exhibition at the Bibliothèque nationale de France on my archive on Rabin.
Both books deal with the problem facing the artist, filmmaker and writer, which is to know what to do when they live near a volcano. What artistic form can one offer? What is the right degree of distance? Because we are in the midst of a very dramatic situation, we should be able to introduce some perspective, and that is not easy. A few years ago, therefore, I decided to embark on this project about the assassination of Rabin as a sort of memorial, in the hope that when you stir up a memory it can sometimes set things in motion. But I have to remain modest: art is not the most effective way to change reality. Politics or machine guns have a much more direct impact. However, sometimes art can have a slow-burning effect by preserving a memory, a memory that those in power would like to erase, as they demand obedience and do not want to be disturbed or challenged. If artists stay faithful to their inner truth, they produce work which can travel through time, even if it does not have an immediate impact. I hope that this is what we are doing with this multi-faceted presentation – a film, exhibitions, and a play about the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin – as well as using the circumstances imposed on us by the confinement to write books.
“Laila in Haifa is selected for the official competition of the coming Venice Film Festival in September”
The last day of shooting “Laila in Haifa”, 20th December 2019: a group photo of the crew together, looking at the just filmed scene with the Director Amos Gitai.
Amos Gitai, what else did you do in all the months?
This period of four months, in contrast with the constant hectic movement of the previous months, was very productive.
First of all, I decided, with the British producer Jeremy Thomas, to assemble 25 films that I did over 40 years and make them available through his company HanWay. This work took a lot of energy, to contact all the different producers and laboratories around the world in order to locate the masters to re-digitalize them.
Did you prepare a new film?
Recently we completed the work on Laila in Haifa and we just heard the great news that the film is selected for the official competition of the coming Venice Film Festival in September.
What is the film about?
Let me describe it to you. It’s a heavy dark and humid evening in the port city of Haifa. We are entering a bar, supposedly to see an exhibition of photos by a militant Israeli photographer. Gil meets the director of the gallery Laila (which is an Arabic first name, and in Hebrew a word that also means night). He is carried away into a labyrinth of human relationships. This club Fattoush is a refuge for people of all origins: men and women, straight and gay, Jews and Arabs, radical and moderate. We learn that we can be different, but we don’t need to kill or destroy the other. Every society needs the “Other” among us. This is a feature of modernity, beyond the Middle East. And after all we, the artist, the filmmaker, the wanderer in these places, can just cast another brick in the wall.
“If artists stay faithful to their inner truth, they produce work which can travel through time.”
All this is a lot of work, but what about your personal feelings during this obligatory change of lifestyle?
We will see if this devastating epidemic, creating death and economic crisis, can also create changes in the way we use our time and the way we relate to the planet and the ecology. We will see what will be the impact of this very tiny invisible virus on tyranny and despots. Personally, it reminds me of a moment during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when I was part of a rescue unit. For us, the enemy was death: we had to save people. When our helicopter flew over Syrian territory, I saw villages, jeeps, and bases, and at that moment we were hit by a missile and our helicopter crashed. We went from being rescuers to victims. I had started filming with a little Super 8 camera during the war, but it took me 27 years to make a fictional film based on this experience. In the space of 27 years, a purely personal trauma assumed symbolic proportions. Israel is a strange country; each time you think you have worked out your relationship with it, you realize that reality has shifted and that it is in a permanent state of transformation. I am aware that I am only an individual inside this large mechanism, perhaps a witness in the Hitchcockian sense of the term, like a witness to a crime. I wouldn’t call it a mission, but there is something in me that I have to translate as I see it. At the same time, Israel is a very appealing country; there is something very real and immediate about it, things are very crude, unvarnished, rather exposed. This is all worthy of close attention.
In a series of exhibitions that I did with my gallerist Thaddaeus Ropac I was looking again at photos that I took during the war and specially after my helicopter was shot down, and I started photographing and filming the military fatigue that I was feeling of the crash as a fragment and trace of the memory of a traumatic experience. When I was observing these photos exhibited at the gallery it brought back a strange juxtaposition of souvenirs. A bit like what we are experiencing right now. (https://www.ropac.net/selected_works/amos-gitai )
“Laila in Haifa” is selected for the official competition of the Venice Film Festival in September 2020.
‘Kedma’ is a film directed by Amos Gitai that was entered into the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.
Image of an Amos Gitai exhibit at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac: In time for war, II, 1969-2013. Pigment print on paper. 93 x 142 cm.
‘Kadosh’ is a film by Amos Gitai that was entered into the 1999 Cannes Film Festival.
‘Kippur’ is a war film by Amos Gitai that was entered into the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.
‘Rabin, the Last Day’ is a 2015 Israeli-French docudrama political thriller film directed by Amos Gitai that was selected to compete for the Golden Lion at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival.
“We can continue to produce, to create and perhaps it may have some effect on the perception of the reality.”
Amos Gitai, Israel is particularly wounded by corona virus. How come in such an advanced and efficient country?
In my mind the very long duration of having the Netanyahu government in power, now almost a quarter of a century, is resulting in this very problematic cocktail of health hazard and political hazard.
The fact that there weren’t festivals and most cinema houses were closed obliged people to watch Netflix series. Do you think it’s going to change the role of the cinema d’auteur?
In conclusion I will share with you an old Jewish proverb. I will first say it in Hebrew and then translate it: “HAKOL TSAFUY VEHARESHUT NETUNA” which means “Everything may happen but you have the right to act.” We can continue to produce, to create and perhaps it may have some effect on the perception of the reality. It is an open question, as in the Talmudic dialectics that when you ask a question I will answer you back with another question, that way we may continue our dialogue.
ENJOYT THIS INTERVIEW? SHARE IT WITH A FRIEND.