September 23, 2019

Pilot Project

During a pivotal moment in Elan Frank’s award-winning documentary, “Blue and White in Red Square,” a Russian-Israeli looks about his old Moscow neighborhood with an expression of dismay. Eugene had excitedly made the trip home with fellow musicians in the Young Israeli Philharmonic, many of them émigrés returning for the first time to post-Communist Russia. But as the violinist gazed at his decrepit old apartment building, surrounded by garbage and graffiti, his exuberance turned to bitter disappointment. “I feel like a stranger here,” he said.

The mixed feelings of Eugene and the other émigré musicians is the heart of “Blue and White,” which follows orchestra members as they prepare for a mass youth concert in Red Square in 1998. Violist Allah, who emigrated on her own at the age of 19, remembers her grandmother’s fear of anti-Semitism. Ayelet, a bassoonist, recalls that “throughout my childhood Russia always seemed very mysterious… abstract and forbidding.” Cellist Marima, meanwhile, eagerly anticipates performing in the same grand hall where she once competed in the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition.

Frank, an Israeli who lives in Los Angeles, had just a week to put together the documentary after he was approached by Pelon Films in summer 1998. At the time, he was completing his twice-yearly reserve duty in the Israeli Air Force; “Blue and White” is something of a departure for the Holon-bred pilot, who previously produced and directed “Elite Choppers: Birds of Prey” for the Discovery Channel.

His own near-death experience was the subject of a segment he produced for Fox’s “Extreme Courage” series not long ago. It began around 1 a.m. on a full-moon night in Lebanon back in 1981, as Frank was piloting his helicopter deep inside enemy territory to pick up paratroopers who had completed a raid of terrorist bases. Suddenly, fire opened from six different sources, but Frank refused to abandon the 25 soldiers and managed to land amid the fracas. “My helicopter turned into a vacuum cleaner,” he recalls of the paratroopers’ frantic rush into the chopper. For his heroic effort, he received the coveted Israeli Medal of Honor.

Next on his plate is an “ER-with-pilots” kind of drama for Israeli TV and a Holocaust-themed feature film, among other projects. “I see myself as both a pilot and a filmmaker,” Frank 44, explains. “My interests lie somewhere in between.”

“Blue and White in Red Square” shows at the Israel Film Festival 2000 April 9, 3 p.m., at Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex, including a discussion with Frank after the screening. For tickets, call (877) 966-5566.