May 21, 2019

Israel Film Festival Honoree Brings ‘The Other Story’ to L.A.

Photo by Iris Nesher

Acclaimed for such films as “The Troupe,” “Rage and Glory,” “Past Life” and  “Dizengoff 99,” Israeli film director Avi Nesher is headed to Los Angeles for the 32nd Israel Film Festival, where he will receive the Cinematic Achievement Award and present his latest work, “The Other Story,” at the opening night gala on Nov. 6. 

“Being honored is always nice,” Nesher told the Journal via Skype. “I spent many years in L.A. It will be interesting to see Hollywood meet this side of Israel,” he said about the festival, which also will present his 2004 film “Turn Left at the End of the World” on Nov. 8 as part of a tribute to classic Israeli movies. 

“The Other Story” is about secular Jewish parents on a mission to stop the marriage of their daughter and her ex-rocker boyfriend who have traded the wildlife for ultra-Orthodoxy. Inspired by his co-writer Noam Shpancer’s experience, the dramedy “sounds like a romantic comedy, but real life takes it in interesting directions,” Nesher said. Sasson Gabai (“The Band’s Visit”) plays the psychologist father.

“People in Israel are really identifying with this crisis of faith. Israeli society is very torn right now between the secular and the religious. It’s become the No. 1 topic of contention in Israel,” Nesher said. “Does Israel stay a secular democracy or turn more to the right and to the religious? The film tries to see both sides, understand the dichotomy of two entities that are totally convinced that they are right. It’s the thing that is tearing at the very heart of Israeli society.”

Nesher, who hired a mix of Orthodox and secular Jewish crewmembers “to make sure both sides were represented,” is secular himself, raised in Ramat Gan by socialist parents from Romania and Moldova, both Holocaust survivors. His father survived a labor camp; his mother’s father “put her on a wagon with two Russian young men and he stayed behind with the rest of the family,” Nesher said. “She’s the only one who survived.”

He credits his mother with inspiring his “love affair with cinema. She took me to movies when I was 3,” he said. His father’s job as a diplomat took the family to New York for several years, and Nesher returned there to attend Columbia University after his army service. 

“Israeli society is very torn right now between the secular and the religious. It’s become the No. 1 topic of contention in Israel” — Avi Nesher

He started out as a film critic but segued to writing screenplays in 1978 with “The Troupe,” about an army entertainment unit. “Much to my surprise, I became a film director,” he said. “I always write screenplays that try to decipher the Israeli spirit. Intercultural dialogue interests me a lot and cinema is a great way to get people thinking.”

Nesher is proud that “The Troupe” and his other films like “The Matchmaker,” which is now part of the curriculum in Israeli high schools, enjoy enduring popularity. “With film, the trick is to be not just successful in your time but to survive time,” he said. 

Currently, he’s negotiating with several distributors to secure a U.S. theatrical release for “The Other Story” and gearing up for his next project, a television series about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. “It tracks the sources of anti-Semitism in a dramatic way. It’s a project that is dear to my heart,” he said.

Taking a break between projects never seems to be in the cards for the 64-year-old filmmaker. “When you finish a movie, you think you’re going to rest for a few years, take a vacation before you start a new one, but when it’s successful, you find this new energy and find all these new ideas. Before I know it, I’m writing again,” Nesher said. “We haven’t been on vacation for a long time.” 

The Israel Film Festival will screen “The Other Story” on Nov. 6 at the Saban Theater, Nov. 10 at the Ahrya Fine Arts and Nov. 13 at the Skirball Center.