Israeli Director Gets Big Break From Low-Budget Local Film
When Ido Fluk decided to go out and shoot his first film, he didn't realize that the day it hit theaters he would already be planning his next work with two major American film producers who had worked on such movies as "Boys Don't Cry," "The Italian Job," "I'm Not There" and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."
Factor in the miniscule budget for Fluk's film "Never Too Late," and the fact that he employed an all-volunteer production crew, raised financing through Facebook and a used 1986 Volvo for transportation and the improbability that such a movie would attract two American producers becomes even more apparent.
After studying film at New York University, Fluk returned to Israel in 2005 with a desire to turn his lens on the local landscape.
"I really wanted to shoot a movie in Israel," Fluk says. "Every time I came back to visit, I had the unexpectedly powerful experience of observing the goings-on in the country through the eyes of someone returning to it. Suddenly, I saw Israel in a new light. I think that Israel's depiction in the media or the way it's perceived by those who are familiar with it is often superficial."
Fluk says that most of the images emerging from Israel are the bustling streets, the desert, some shots fired in a [West Bank] casbah. "It's always the same photos," he says. "Yet when I toured around the country and observed things as someone returning to it, I suddenly saw an incredibly diverse place. It's such a small strip of land, but it's got everything: so many different types of topography and scenery. This really appealed to me, and I felt like this aspect has never really been presented through film. I felt like getting up and doing it."
Fluk ended up shooting a travelogue in this tiny country, where it's possible to get from the northernmost point to the southernmost end in just a few hours.
"Here the distances aren't the same as those you typically see in American travelogue films, in which someone gets up and crosses an entire continent," says Fluk. "It was a challenge for me to undertake a similar journey in a place where it seems impossible," he adds.
Fluk wrote his script and applied to the Israel Film Fund for financing. As is the norm, his film was passed to several reviewers for own feedback. They suggested he hire an editor to work with him on the film, but he was impatient and decided not to delay his work further to meet the film fund's request. Instead, he took the DIY path that he had previously embarked on with his band Elephant Parade, which recorded an album using a laptop and external microphone used for video-chatting.
"The experience with the band proved that sometimes it's good to just simply get up and do something, and not to wait around. This is the spirit with which I came to this movie," Fluk explains.
A sense of detachment
"Never Too Late," Fluk's film (which came out last Friday at art house cinemas around Israel) tells the story of a 28-year-old protagonist (Nony Geffen) named Hertzel who returns to Israel after eight years of traveling in South America. He finds work plastering posters around the country, and one day removes the tarp from his recently deceased father's old Volvo and takes it on a cross-country journey. He drives through Israel's varied landscapes, runs into some old acquaintances, meets different people, and takes stock of his personal history in this place.
Fluk is familiar with Hertzel's feelings throughout the film.
"After years of not living here, I felt a strong sense of detachment," says Fluk. "I looked around and saw the story of a generation that is less interested in where it exists geographically; it just wants to fulfill its own potential." He adds, "This creates tension with the previous generation, their parent's generation, which opposes this worldview. For us, to get up and move somewhere else is a political act."
In addition to the inter-generational tension, Fluk also wanted to examine grief in "Never Too Late." "I grew up with a sense of grief in my family," he says. "My mother lost her sister when she was young, and for years our home was filled with her photos. Death was really present. Dealing with the memory of a person who is gone, who has passed away, is in my eyes a very Israeli topic that is an integral part of the DNA of this place."
Small budget, big plus
Fluk and cinematographer Itay Marom wanted to let the scenery speak for itself in the film - and the fact that they had a low production budget actually worked to their advantage, making their schedule more flexible.
"On one of our shooting days, for example, we went out at 3 A.M. for a day of filming up north. But at 3:30 A.M. the old Volvo that we use in the movie - and that was used for transporting staff and equipment off screen - got stuck on the Ayalon Highway, and we found ourselves waiting around to get towed. At the beginning we were at a total loss, but then quickly we decided that on another date we would could make-up what we missed. In the meantime it was just me, the lead actor, the cinematographer and the producer travelling up north. And really, in the end, that day was one of the days that we shot some of the most beautiful scenes. In the end, it was a great advantage that nothing was hermetically sealed and that everyone worked pro bono and with a lot of passion."
Gal Greenspan, Roi Kurland and Fluk produced the movie and initially raised NIS 50,000 (about $12,530). Another NIS 50,000 was raised through Facebook, in a special crowdsourcing initiative in which almost 300 people agreed to dig into their own pockets and contribute sums of between NIS 100 ($25) and NIS 5,000 (about $1,250) for the film. The production also attracted plenty of goodwill: An entire crew for free and someone else agreed to loan a camera used for the production. The filmmaker then received a completion grant from the Israeli Film Fund, support from Mifal Hapayis (the national lottery), and a prize at the Haifa Film Festival that helped finish the project in Germany.
"It's a movie that began with an '86 Volvo and ended with white-gloved technicians at a lab in Berlin. It was very nice," says Fluk with a chuckle.
"Never Too Late" premiered at last year's International Film Festival in Haifa. Since then it has also been shown at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland and the Freiburg Festival in Germany, where it clinched first prize. Two weeks ago, a special screening was held at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, with the goal of showing the finished product to those who made it possible: the hundreds of contributors who helped fund the film. Every one of them left the event with a festive tote bag, shirt and a special-edition DVD.
"It was fun to show the movie to the people who made it happen," says Fluk. "It was important to hold that screening, so that they would feel that something came out of the NIS 100 that each of them invested."
Meanwhile, Fluk's film also received an upbeat review in American entertainment industry paper Variety, which opened more doors for him in Hollywood and brought him ever closer to achieving the American Dream.
"After that review was published, I received inquiries from all sorts of people abroad,' Fluk says." Wendy Japhet [an America producer who worked on "The Italian Job" and the Bob Dylan-themed movie "I'm Not There"] visited me. She read a script I wrote in English while I was editing "Never Too Late" and expressed interest in producing it." Not too long ago, Pamela Koffler, another American producer connected to the films "Boys Don't Cry" and "Hedwig's Angry Inch" also signed on for the project.
Fluk's new movie, "The Ticket" is now in the casting phase and filming is slated to take place in the U.S. "It's a story that takes place in the Bible Belt in the Unites States, a southern region characterized by an extremely conservative and Christian population. This story is also based on one character whose life changes," Fluk says but refuses to divulge more details about the plot.
"Suddenly, I found myself working with these people, as a result of a film I created for less than $100,000," says Fluk. "I've learned from all of this that it's important not to let the system get in your way."