Review Fix chats with “White Eye” Director Tomer Shushan and Producer Shira Hochman, who discuss the film and the impact they’d like it to have on audiences.
Review Fix: Why is the topic of this film important today?
Tomer: In the last years I have been seeing more and more refugees coming from Africa to Israel escaping political persecution and war. Those people arrive with no option to go back home.
Even though they work long hours and are being paid minimum wage, they still do lots of effort trying to assimilate into a society that usually rejects them. Like in most other countries facing an asylum surge, the Israeli population does not always meet African immigrants with patience, understanding and equal respect.
I feel that with more people arriving, this issue has gotten worse over the years, which makes the topic in my film more relevant since there are more and more clashes between the citizens and the refugees.
It was important for me to deal with this topic because i feel that when people will watch this film they will be able to get a reflection of themselves from an objective angle and will have a chance to see how the image changes to the individual.
Review Fix: What inspired this film?
Tomer: One evening, about two years ago, right before the deadline of submitting scripts for the Israeli film foundation, I was on the way to meet Orna, my mentor, who worked with me on a script for a short film we scheduled to finalize.
On my way to Orna the story of WHITE EYE actually happened to me.
I found my stolen bicycle and confronted Yunas.
The real story did not end as bad, but still made me feel horrible. Days after days, I was ashamed of my reaction.
Eventually I made it to the meeting with Orna and told her about my experience I had.
I was so agitated and upset, she recognized it and told me: “We have 50 minutes for the deadline, write it.”
The script hasn’t changed since that first draft.
Review Fix: Why was ‘White Eye’ a perfect title for this short?
Tomer: I’ve had this name in my head for a long time. Then I met Dawit (Yunes). He lost the eyesight of his left eye when he was young as a result of diseases. His eye has been white ever since. It felt like a mythical situation. As soon as we met, I knew it was the right name. If I had any doubts about it before, they vanished.
Beyond Yunes’s physical situation, in the film there are some points of view, some characters who see the situation through their own perspective. In White Eye, the white man is the category, the privileged. And it doesn’t matter if he is the policeman, the manager of the staff, the manager of the restaurant or Omer, the main character causing all the trouble.
Review Fix: How difficult was this film to put together?
Shira: It was very challenging. It took a lot of rehearsals and meetings. Each department knew exactly what to do and when. We became a very accurate machine that worked together. And I think that the main part here is having faith, to believe in cinema and in life. All the people that worked on the film believed in it and wanted, deeply in their heart to see it happen, come to life and be part of it. So it’s more about the people you chose to go to this “war” with you.
Review Fix: Tell me about the cast.
Tomer: It was very important for me that the first time the main actors will meet each other will be on the day of the shooting. There is something about meeting a person for the first time, that the body language and the general energie are really hard to reproduce. So I worked with them separately and with each one of them I used to confront them as the other character.
Another thing that was important for me is that the actor who is going to be Yunas will be a non actor, african refugee. I knew that this character should be presented by a person who comes from the same background.
After a few months of searching, one night, I walked at 3am in the street and from a dimly lit window of a hamburger place I saw dawit washing dishes, I came close and we looked at each other for a few moments, something about his look recognized that someone actually saw him. My first words were “I want you to act in my next film”, he laughed, couldn’t believe that I’m serious, the day after we met for a coffee and we started our journey. We used to meet twice a week. We talked a lot, worked on text and body language.
My sister recommended me on Daniel Gad for the character of Omer.
We met and I just knew, something about our first meeting was magical, the feeling that you wish to have when you’re looking for the missing part of a creation.
I didn’t even need to see anything he did before.
When we started to work on the character I knew that the best thing is that Daniel will have the chance to be close to me even when we are not working since the character is based on me. So I decided to take him to Sinay, the best place to spend a quiet time together. We became really close and the work just became much more organic, because it is not the director and actor that are working, it’s two friends that are trying to tell a story.
Review Fix: What was the feeling like on set?
Shira: The production itself was very exciting. Shooting ONE SHOT in one night is definitely challenging. Kobi and I had to prepare for this night very well. Many reheasles have been made so that we can reach the most accurate moment. Mostly we were about 50 people, who wanted to see this shot take place and gave their hearts to the set. The cast and crew from all departments were ALL IN and maintained admirable concentration and patience.
From the moment of the ACTION to the CUT we couldn’t breathe, we prayed with all our heart that there will be no interruption to the take, that this dance succeed, and everyone will do the choreography in symbiotic way, to reach the most accurate take. This in itself is a fascinating and exciting thing. A complete set of 50 people is breathtaking for 20 minutes in each take.
Review Fix: How have the audiences been reacting to White Eye?
Tomer: A lot of people who have seen the film were able to deeply identify with Omer, the main character. We constantly meet immigrants with different social status in our everyday life but people do not always act in a way that can keep up with their actual ethical beliefs. Often this behavior stays unnoticed and life just goes on. White Eye shows the audience these social differences and reminds everyone of their privilege.
Review Fix: What films have inspired it the most?
Tomer: “Bicycle thieves” (1948) of Vittorio De Sica, was the first one to watch and analyse after I decided to make this film. The Italian neo realism has always had a lot of influence on me as a filmmaker.
About the story that make two people from different levels to confront I took a lot of from one of my favored films “Winter Sleep” (2014) of Nuri Bilge Ceylan
From the technical and rhythm I watched “Viktoria” (2014) Maya Vitkova and Irreversible of Gaspar Noé (2002).
Review Fix: White Eye was scheduled to screen at SXSW but due to the recent situation with the Coronavirus, it was cancelled. What are your thoughts on this?
Tomer: It is a tragedy for the festival, the artists, the audience and the city of Austin. Things escalated so fast with this Virus, and the uncertainty is what makes it so hard. I was really expecting the international premiere at SXSW. I was so happy to take part in this festival and felt that it’s going to be a great match for the film. All we can do is hope that this scary period will end soon. I’m trying to be positive and glad that the festival continues to promote the films and filmmakers through online platforms.
Review Fix: What have you learned about yourself through this entire process?
Tomer: On a professional level I have learned that making a film with such a limited budget is extremely challenging but I also felt how it just kept pushing my creative strategy. On a personal level, the whole story of White Eye made me more aware of my interactions with people. It definitely improved my awareness.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Tomer: I’m developing two projects these days.
The first one is my debut feature film, “Between the sacred and the secular”.
The film is about an unexpected love story that happens one night in a wedding celebration between a thirty years old waiter and a rich young woman, that comes from two different classes and carries them to a wild night journey of passion which raises a threat of existence.
The second one is a T.V series named “TORSO”. It is about Leon, a private investigator who was hired by the suspicious wife of a police detective. Instead of discovering the husband’s unfaithfulness, Leon reveals his complex secret. Going deeper and deeper in the trace Leon gets the chance to save the life of innocent people.