The Heymann Effect

Tomer and Barak Heymann

Tomer and Barak Heymann draw a loyal, engaged and ever-growing following because of their bold approach to taboo and provocative subjects, taken on through small, personal and idiosyncratic stories. Their company, Heymann Brothers Films, articulates its mission simply as: "the release of documentaries on the social aspect of the Israeli-Jewish culture". While portraying the nuances of social conflict within Israel, they prefer raw representation of the truth over political correctness. The brothers' recent film festival accolades are due not only to gripping premises, but the honesty with which they approach tricky subject matter such as homosexuality and Israeli racism.

The company was originally founded by Tomer Heymann just over a decade ago. Its first film was Laugh Till I Cry, a documentary chronicling five women living with Cystic Fibrosis and the theater group they create to help them cope. In 2003, Tomer's younger brother, Barak Heymann, joined the company and, since then, the two have often worked in tandem.

Three Heymann films were recently honored with a special spotlight at the 6th Annual Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival. It Kinda Scares Me (2001) is a documentary about Tomer Heymann's stint as a drama coach, and the "delinquent" boys under his tutelage. The film confronts issues surrounding disadvantaged Israeli youth and follows the developing relationship between Tomer and these boys as they grapple with his sexual orientation.

Another selection, The Queen Has No Crown, a true portrayal of the Heymann family and the extremely differing lives its members have come to lead. With an uninhibited frankness, the Heymanns redefine the meaning of belonging, displacement, and sexuality as the family struggles to stick together when it seems most impossible.

I Shot My Love, the final of the three Heymann films in the festival, concerns Tomer's real-life relationship with his German boyfriend, Andreas, and the tension it brings out as a result ofthe Heymanns' Jewish ancestry. The film has won many awards, including Best Documentary of 2010 at Spain's Zinegoak Film Festival, and at Russia's Side By Side GLBT International Film Festival.

Black Over White, one of the most well-known of the Heymann films, follows Israeli pop band The Idan Raichel Project as two of its members reconnect with their cultural and familial roots during the band's visit to Ethiopia. Emotional reunions are captured and and personal perspectives are shared as the film explores the issue of racism in Israel, and what ‘home' truly means to a Jewish- Israeli immigrant.

Another notable film by Heymann Brothers Films is Stalags-Holocaust and Pornography in Israel, a shocking introduction to the phenomenon of stalags--pornographic literature portraying female SS officers sexually abusing camp prisoners. These books were distributed and sold in Israel during the 1960s, ironically as the trial against Adolf Eichmann unfolded. The film offers an in depth look at the creators of this obscene literature, and examines its implications for Holocaust remembrance in post-World War II Israel. While many filmmakers would deem this material too disturbing to explore, the Heymann brothers manage to approach the topic both candidly and sensitively.

The Heymann brothers maintain their pioneer status in that they are among the first in the Israeli film industry to explore so unapologetically the hot-button issues that are not often discussed in such a religiously and politically heated country. For instance Zorki, about filmmaker Zohar Wagner's family dysfunction (her mother's 5 year extra-marital affair with a younger man), which comes to surface twenty years after the affair ended. Another example is Lady Kul El Arab, a 2008 documentary about Druze Model Doaa Fares, a contestant in a beauty pageant for Israeli-Arab women, whose very presence in the contest caused great turbulence in her sheltered community. Barak and Tomer don't shy away from using intimate, often pain-evoking details of their life to lend raw immdiacy to their films, as in On The Way Homean eight part series by and about Tomer Heymann, which explores his personal history and the significant events that shaped him.The Heymann brothers are effectively reinventing filmmaking in Israel --hat once was too personal, too taboo, or too offensive to be shown is coming closer to be rendered acceptable in Israeli cinema, thanks in large part to Tomer and Barak Heymann.

The Israel Film Center and NewFest will be presenting the NY premiere of the Queen Has No Crown on Tuesday, July 26 at 7:30pm at the JCC in Manhattan. For details and tickets, click here.