Elad Keidan on directing his first feature film, 'Afterthought'
The film will be distributed worldwide after showing in Cannes.
Growing up in the port city of Haifa, Israel, Elad Keidan used to climb up and down Mount Carmel all the time. So did everyone else who lived in the bustling downtown of the city. The streets, built into the mountainside, were accessible by a series of staircases.
In his first feature film, "Afterthought," the writer and director gives us a feel for the mountainous part of his hometown and how changes in Israeli culture over the last couple of decades have changed Haifa. The story is told through two characters, both of whose lives change dramatically on those staircases.
"The thing is that the mountainside developed alongside with Israeli history," the filmmaker told From The Grapevine. The different eras that Israel has seen, before and after its forming, can be seen in the buildings and staircases that line the streets that wind around Mount Carmel. Keidan has noted this over the years because he's walked in these characters' shoes. "This journey that the characters are making is a journey that I made many times."
The film tells the tale of two men: One is climbing up the mountain, searching for his wife's earring, and another is climbing down, on his way to board a freighter that will take him overseas. The activities seem mundane, but the film is really about the journey of discovery these men take as they're doing them.
The man who is climbing up is Moshe (Uri Klauzner), a former teacher who is madly in love with his wife but isn't sure she's still in love with him. The man who is climbing down is Uri (Itay Tiran), a young writer who has decided to ditch his family and responsibilities after a bad breakup.
For Keidan, whose day job is as a high school teacher, the movie gave him an opportunity to showcase his hometown. "Part of the motivation was really this urge I had to capture something from this part of the city while it’s changing, to encapsulate some of its feelings and the feelings I have towards this urban environment," he said.
During their respective walks, Moshe and Uri discover different things about themselves and their lives. Moshe finds out some things about his marriage, and finds some dignity years after the incident that led him to quitting education. Uri finds out that he may not be as cynical and anti-establishment as he thinks he is, and that's not so bad. When the two men meet midway, they figure out that they not only know each other, but are running from a lot of the same issues in their lives.
What brings "Afterthought," and before that, "Anthem," to life is atmospheric touches like wide shots to show the scope of location, interactions with people who meet randomly on the street, side conversations brought to the forefront, and an emphasis on ambient noise. There are a lot of audible footsteps in Keidan's films, for instance, and in the opening scene of "Afterthought," he pans across the landscape of Haifa, turning past various noises like someone turning an old-fashioned radio dial.
"This mixture between the lonely individual and the world he’s engulfed in, nature in a way, it’s something that has always been important for me and interesting for me," he said.
Keidan's movie-making style evokes memories of the auteur era of the early 1970s, and given Keidan's influences, that's no accident. "The best reference for what inspires me in this film generally is like [Robert] Altman movies. I mean like 'Nashville' or earlier works where it’s not about being obliged to focus only on the drama but more about the atmosphere and being able to use sound editing to be as free as possible in many ways."
Like Altman's films, there are also funny moments and absurdities that have to be seen to be believed, like the brooding Uri singing in a barbershop quartet or the sad Moshe encouraging little kids to get on one of the coin-operated pony rides he owns. There are also happy accidents, like one scene where from a distance, the men see a little boy mistake an old woman for his grandmother; that just happened to occur as Keidan was shooting scenes of life around a school building, and he kept it in the final cut.
Even the choice of who is going up the mountain and who is going down speaks to each of the character's personalities. Moshe's journey takes him from light to heavy-hearted, and Uri's trip takes him from seriousness to ebullience.
"It’s a funny thing because you can walk in the same street and when you’re walking down you see the horizon, gravity helps you, you feel like a rooster. You’re on the top of the world, you’re walking down, looking at the horizon, making plans. You’ve got your goals all set up and you’re on your way. Nothing can beat you," Keidan said. "Then if you’re walking on the same street up, you don’t have any horizon. You’re just looking at the ground because it’s hard to walk. You’re trying to focus just to keep on walking. You have no specific destination that you can see, no feeling of freedom, and the world is against you."
Keidan's experience in Cannes in 2015 was a bit different than it was in 2008. With "Anthem," he was the beaming filmmaker proud to have his film in the short film screening schedule. "I made 'Anthem' completely without any expectations of ever screening it anywhere. So it was a very big surprise when we got into Cannes, and the screening section of their short films is very intimate and it’s like being hugged, protected," he said.
It's not the same experience with featured films, he said. "Afterthought was shown as a "Special Screening," not in competition for awards, but to find a distributor.
"It’s a market," Keidan said. "You always feel like you’re missing out on some interview or maybe you should meet an agent or maybe you should meet this person or that person or talk about fundraising for the next film. It's a lot of anxiety." He was also worried that "Afterthought" had too many Israeli inside references to appeal to a wider audience.
He didn't have to fear, though. The film was picked up by the German company The Match Factory for distribution worldwide (no American release date has been set as yet). But making films that will present well at festivals isn't Keidan's ultimate goal.
"Making a film is really my passion," he said. "If they would tell me that I’m going to shoot tomorrow with some random actors, I would say bring it on. This is what I like to do, to tell the story, to create characters."
MORE FROM THE GRAPEVINE: