... the complex relationships between women´s issues and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, militarism and ethnicity.
Michal Aviad was born in Jerusalem to an Italian-born mother and a Hungarian-born father. After finishing high school, she studied literature, philosophy and cinema. During the 1980s she lived in San Francisco, where she started making films and became a mother.
Since returning to Israel in 1991, she has continued to write, direct and produce award-winning documentary films. Her films include: "Acting Our Age" (1987, USA), "The Women Next Door" (1992, Israel), "Ever Shot Anyone?" (1995, Israel), "Jenny and Jenny" (1997, Israel), "Ramleh" (2001, Israel), "For My Children" (2002, Israel). (Source: Press sheet)
Since 2006 she has been working on co-writing and directing "Lo Roim Alaich (Invisible)", which celebrated its world premiere in the Panorama section of the Berlinale 2011 and won the award of the ecumenical jury.
It tells the story of two Israeli women who meet each other by chance and discover they were victims of the same rapist twenty years earlier. Being different in character and having different family situations, both of the women had to get on with life after the tragedy. In their daily lives they are successful women: Lily (Ronit Elkabetz) is a left-wing activist, a dance teacher and a married mother of two nearly grown-up children. Nira (Evgenia Dodina) is a TV editor and a single mother. However, emotionally, the trauma of being raped and the effects it has on their relationships is an ongoing struggle. By meeting each other they are empowered to face and deal with the rape in a new way. Although Lily is reluctant at first, the two women trace the past together and discover how society and the legal institutions actually dealt with this rapist.
While the protagonists of the film, their families and their social contexts are fictional, the serial rapist that the film portays, is real. From 1977 until 1978 he is known to have raped about sixteen women, including young girls in the Tel Aviv area. (Source: Press sheet)
AVIVA-Berlin: Many congratulation on the premiere of your latest movie at the Berlinale. How were the reactions of the audience?
Michal Aviad: It was amazing. The room was full. The actors were there and some of the other crew. During the screening people were very quiet. The question and answer session was really interesting. The audience asked many deep questions.
AVIVA-Berlin: You used some documentary footage. Is the film based on a true story?
Michal Aviad: The film is not based on a true story. There are many films which are based on true stories but my film tries to do something else. It tries to mix fiction with facts and this is an important difference. That means I created a new story which is combined with documentary footage of a real case.
AVIVA-Berlin: How did you find the footage and why did you decide to use exactly that footage?
Michal Aviad: The footage I used is the only material which existed about this rapist. I didn´t have to make any decisions about that. And I did a lot of additional research and interviews. We got the court reports. We just used all we found about the case.
AVIVA-Berlin: Why did the public and the media come up with the name: "The polite rapist"?
Michal Aviad: That was actually quite shocking to me. I think that many people still think that rape is like there is some guy riding a horse. He picks a woman from the field, he rapes her, than he throws her back. But actually rape is something that takes time. In this case it took two or three hours for each victim in which the rapist would talk to her and tried to make it up like it was a date. But whilst this he strangled them and pulled them to an isolated place.
AVIVA-Berlin: Has the film script got a biographical background?
Michal Aviad: I was one of the victims of the sixteen women he raped but it´s not based on my story. My story is just interwoven in the many other facts we find out of during the research. Out of that my co-writer Tal Omer and me built up the main characters of the two women and settled their life into all kinds of things that we have collected. It was important to us to show that even if it´s the same rapist, each woman reacts differently: which changes are caused in their life by the trauma, in which way they deal with them. The trauma effects family and friends as well. But it´s important that at the same time they are just women who live their life.
AVIVA-Berlin: Why did you decide to let your main protagonists Lily and Nira meet first during an activist happening in the West Bank?
Michal Aviad: Well, this reflects the reality in Israel. There are very few Israeli Jews who are activists against the occupation. More women than men, by the way, are doing this hard labour - going there again and again. Lily, one of the main characters, is one of these women. Maybe because she knows what it’s like to be a victim and what helplessness and humiliation feels like, made her more sensitive to the situation of the Palestinians.
AVIVA-Berlin: You have made documentaries about the Israelian-Palestinian-conflict before?
Michal Aviad: Not only about that topic, but only documentaries with women in the centre. Some among them had to do with the Israelian-Palestinian-conflict.
I´m also an activist. I have been there, I am observing the occupation and the damage it brings to all human beings.
AVIVA-Berlin: In one of your previous movies, "Acting Our Age", you dealt with the topic of age. The two women in "Invisible" are looking back to the traumatizing rape after more than 20 years. How important is the aspect of age for that?
Michal Aviad: "Acting our age" is a film I made when I was myself in my twenties. It is about women in the age of 65 and over.
But I really want to say that trauma is an ongoing process which stays with you. It´s part of you for life. You can learn how to integrate it better into your life and how you can deal with it. But it doesn´t go away. Every fifth woman down the street was raped and has an unique story with that trauma.
AVIVA-Berlin: In your film it is shown that society makes it even harder for women to live with the trauma of being raped. What do you think is important for women to help them deal with the trauma?
Michal Aviad: First of all, I don´t regard myself as someone who teaches women how to heal the trauma. I want to talk about how to stop offenders from raping women. I think men and women should start to talk to each other. It´s the question how to bring men into that. That is at least 50% to initiate a change of fate. Everyone must understand deeply that it´s totally forbidden to do something against the will of another person. My way of action is to make films: The reason why I made that film is to get people to talk about the topic.
AVIVA-Berlin: "The polite rapist" was sentenced to a what most people would feel is short term of imprisonment considering what he had done. Should the legal system be reformed regarding the punishment of rapists?
Michal Aviad: He was released after ten years. A very small percentage of rapists get convicted at all. It´s very hard to prove their crime. And the definition of rape changes from country to country, and over the years. Many people still think that raping one‘s wife is not a rape. In many cultures having sex with woman violently against their will is still not something which is forbidden. So there are a lot of changes which needs to be made. The film tries to show how society understates the facts; for example, by saying a woman was dressed too sexy or has been promiscuous. And there is that journalist who grades the victims into being pretty and being not pretty. Society has to change its views on such a large scale.
AVIVA-Berlin: How did you cast your two actresses? Did you work with them before? How did they react to the script when you suggested it to them?
Michal Aviad: No, I haven´t worked with them before. Both of them, Ronit Elkabetz and Evgenia Dodina, are, as I suppose, the best actresses in Israel, at that age for sure. Ronit is an international star and Evgenia is the grande dame of Israeli theatre. I thought if I choose one, I would need somebody for the other part who would be able to work with her. If it´s not a great actress, the other one will overshine the one who is so talented. Both of them are first choices. And they were enthusiastic about it as well when they heard about my project. They regarded the film as very important and absolutely wanted to do it.
AVIVA-Berlin: What were the difficulties changing from documentary to fictitious movie making?
Michal Aviad: I wouldn´t say it was difficult. Actually, it was a lot of fun. That´s because with the documentaries it was my experience that you are much more alone during the process of filmmaking. I produce my own films, so I work alone on a documentary for about two or three years. In this film it was lovely to have a crew around me: There was a producer, an assistant director. There were people who were around me and would share with me the experiences. It was good to exchange and work together.
AVIVA-Berlin: How is the financial situation in Israel for filmmakers?
Michal Aviad: There is a funding-system with two foundations. But it´s hard to get funding and when you are accepted there is still not enough money. Television gets less and less into films. In many times you need to work in European co-productions for a feature film. We had a very hard time to convince financiers for the film. They couldn´t see the film but knew it was going to be different than other films. They made suggestions like "You have to show the rape itself". Sex and violence is supposed to be commercial successful but I didn´t want to do that. Finally we got a tribut from the Rabinovich Israeli film fund, and a television channel in Israel, and we pre-sold it to ZDF/ARTE.
AVIVA-Berlin: Do you already have plans for a new film project?
Michal Aviad: Right now I am editing a documentary movie which is all based on archive. And I start to write another fiction. But I´m not talking about the topics now.
AVIVA-Berlin: Good luck and much success for your films. Thank you very much for the interview.
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