Name: Sabine Kues
Interview with Yaelle Kayam
Director of the Mountain
Venice Film Festival 2015 - Out of Competition
Israeli director and screenwriter Yaelle Kayam presented her debut feature film Mountain in the Orizzonti competition at the 72nd Venice Film Festival with a tale about an orthodox Jewish woman who lives on the Mount of Olives, a site charged with diverse signification. The film and its protagonist cross spatial as well as cultural borders. Along those lines, we talked to the director about her intentions.
Can you tell me about how the film project Mountain came about?
Well, I'm really inspired by landscapes and especially cultural landscapes, I mean not just geographical places but places that have historical and architectural meanings and are still relevant in our lives today. On my graduation film Diploma, it was the city of Hebron in the West Bank, that really touched me and I started exploring. And now it is the Mount of Olives. I was always really struck by the imagery of this place. It is this massive mountain covered with graves.
Your short film Diploma also plays with the theme of space and boundaries. Is that a crucial theme that goes through your work as a director?
Yes, because I write for landscape and cultural landscape, it's organic to the places I have spent time in. I mean, coming from and growing up in Israel, space and boundaries and walls are a part of your reality and it really feels like the walls are becoming bigger. So I'm trying to somehow break them and that is what I wanted to do with the character of the Palestinian gravedigger.
In Mountain there is a tension between the orthodox woman and the Palestinian gravedigger. What was your concept for this relationship?
Haitham Omari is a great actor, but I also chose him because he acted in Bethlehem, an Israeli film and over there he acts the cruelest, scariest head of Hamas terrorists. And this is something you see a lot, if you see a Palestinian they are terrorists, so I really wanted to take this man, who in this film gave an amazing performance of a very cruel and scary man. And it's amazing of how he can transform. He is the only one that really notices the main character and seems to sympathise with her emotions. The woman keeps playing with the boundaries, but she has a lot of boundaries in her head as well and at the end of the day there is a chance there and she can't break free from her own boundaries to take that step.
Do you feel like you have a specific style for directing?
Lee Strasberg had the method of acting, and sometimes I feel I am a method director. So I just decided to go and spend time there and to blend in, because it is a cemetery and it is a religious place. I started getting dressed as a religious person.
Would you say your films are politically motivated?
Also, yes. I would say Diploma definitely, Mountain as well. Mountain also came from a very emotional and personal place in a way. I was also exploring another way of just breaking this image, if there is a Palestinian man, there is going to be a bomb at the end. Just to show, that actually, there are so many people that are just people. I wanted to sort of break that and also this barrier between this woman who is religious, which is even a bigger barrier and this man who is actually really gentle.
Are there more obstacles being a female director?
At least in Israel, there are definitely more obstacles as being a female director. I think it's still new – not so much as a female screenwriter but as a female director definitely.
For some people, not for everybody it's harder maybe to listen or to follow a female director. Especially if you're young. In Israel there is this saying: A director needs to be a general. And that's why I always mention Woody Allen when I work. 'You see, not everyone are generals, and they are doing great.'
You're films were shown in Cannes and now Venice. Has this helped you with the following productions?
Diploma has helped with Mountain, definitely. I don't know what will happen next. I hope so, because I already have a new thing I am working on and I really hope that it will help because it does take long to raise funding in Israel, it can take up to three years just for fundraising. So, I hope it will help and I wouldn't have to wait so long.