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A Salient Israeli Director: Elite Zexer

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A Salient Israeli Director: Elite Zexer

15.03.2019

Interview: Sasha Demir
Illustration: Saydan Akşit 

15th Akbank Short Film Festival’s international competition jury and the guest of festival’s Experiences section, Elite Zexer is one of Israel’s important woman directors. Zexer’s full feature film ‘‘Sand Storm’’, which earned 16 prizes from various festivals including Sundance, as well as her two shorts are among the festival’s screening program this year. Zexer will also be giving a masterclass where she will be sharing her rich experiences. As the festival approaches, we sat down with the Israeli director Zexer to talk about her Oscar-nominated film and more.

You have quite a different and fascinating career. You studied chemistry and while becoming a scientist you moved to LA and started working in the film industry. Then came the short movies, your first feature film and global awards… What was the breaking point of shifting from science to cinema?  

It wasn't one specific breaking point, I just realized during my science studies that, unlike how I always thought, it wasn't my dream to spend my life in a lab as a scientist. I was spending most of the semester at the cinematheque and felt much more connected to what I saw on the screen than to solving physics problems. I reached out to a family relative who was a producer and she invited me to come spend time with her on a film set and see if I truly want to make the change from science to cinema. I loved the cinematic world from the minute I started practicing it, and I never looked back.

Your cinema career started 10 years ago with the short movie Take Note. The film centres around a woman character and her story. What led you to make this your first movie? And looking at that movie now, do you feel like you would have a different approach to the story?  

I made Take Note basing the characters and their story on what I went through in my army service. If I were to make it today I'm sure it would have been completely different in every aspect. It's been 12 years since I shot it, I changed and grew both as a filmmaker and as a person. But I'm glad I made it when I made it. It's part of who I was then, it's honest and truthful and loyal to the message I wanted to express, and I'm still very proud of it.

In 2010 you filmed the short movie Tasnim which was set in a Bedouin town focusing on a 10-year-old girl. And for your first feature movie you returned to same lands with a different story and you were Israel’s Oscar nominee. How was the experience of filming in such a different land and culture? How did you adapt yourself?

It was absolutely amazing. I didn't feel like the land was so different for me, since I've been visiting there and making close connections with great friends at the villages for more than a decade. I felt very much welcomed and at home. 

I read in one of your interviews that due to their conservative nature you couldn't work with real Bedouins for the Stand Storm movie. If you had worked with Bedouins what kind of positive/negative effects would it have to the movie?

I worked with many Bedouins on the film. We shot on location at real Bedouin villages, we had Bedouins as part of our crew, we had a Bedouin translator and cultural advisor, we had Bedouin actors and extras. One of the most important things to me as a director and as a writer was to make the film as authentic and as real as possible, and this wouldn't have been possible without having the help of Bedouins in every step of the way.

You have seen many festivals with your movies but this time your visiting Istanbul as a jury for the Akbank Short Film Festival. When judging a movie what do you focus on? What do you look for in a film?

I mainly look to feel, to connect, to leave the theater feeling like I just went through e unique experience. This can happen for so many reasons and in so many ways while watching a film. There are no rules, no right or wrong in filmmaking. This is art, not science.

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