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Interview with Avi Mograbi, director of August
The subtitle "a moment before the eruption" - what does it mean?
"A moment before the eruption" was added to the title at the request of the French broadcaster of the film, who wanted to make sure that the audience would be aware of the fact that the film was shot just before the current Intifada started. I don't need this "sub" title. In Hebrew, the film's title is simply AUGUST.
You discuss the process and creation of AUGUST in the film itself, but could you elaborate on the history of the film and how your ideas evolved while making it?
The basic idea was to go out to the street without any preparation or research and just let August present itself. This was in August 1999 and almost nothing came out of it (only one scene remained in the completed film from this period of shooting). For months later, I thought that I should desert the project, but as August 2000 approached I decided to try and put it together again. This time I already had in mind what the filmmaker's wife in the film suggests: to film violence. The idea was that as the filmmaker goes out to the street to film violence - violence penetrates his home from the back door. The atmosphere in the streets by the year 2000 was charged and everywhere you went you could see clashes between people over insignificant things, so I wanted to go out and film it. But, as usual, when you go out to look for something, it does not necessarily mean that it will be there when you are ready to capture it with your camera. And indeed, I found no violence out there but I did find myself in endless aggressive discussions with people over who I was, why was I filmimg, who I was filming for, what will I do with it, how will I (mis)interpret reality, how distorted my view is, etc. So for quite some time, I thought that again I shot a lot but was left with nothing, and it took me some time to realize that this was indeed the material that would constitute my film.
The confrontations in the street are very striking to a viewer. The questions about who you are and what you are doing repeatedly arise. Can you comment on this dynamic and perhaps describe the context in which certain incidents occurred? Which moments stick out in your mind when you run the film through your head?
My basic strategy was to go to places where I figured clashes were probable, but keep myself uninvolved and provoke nothing - just wait for things to heat up. But as distant as I tried to be, it did not work out, and people started approaching me and interrogating me. It took sometime until I realized that the same pattern repeats itself and that the mere presence of the camera has become a menace to people. In the past it was different. When I shot my previous film "Happy Birthday, Mr. Mograbi," I also had a lot of people approach the camera, but then they were joyous and were keen to know when it will be aired; they waved into the lens to their dear ones who will watch them at home.
In August 2000 people did not want to be captured on tape for some reason, everywhere I went people felt that my little dv camera was a threat. And so I found myself conducting daily street fights with other citizens who felt I should be elsewhere or behave differently. The one time I felt I was going to be beat up was in the soccer match. In the begining everybody were really nice to me, but when the team supported by the crowd where I was shooting lost one point, their attitude changed and they started being nasty towards me. As the match went on, I felt that if they lost another point they would make a scapegoat out of me, so I just turned around and left.
Can you discuss the Baruch Goldstein story a bit? How did you conceptualize the inclusion of the audition footage?
The Baruch Goldstein wife auditions is something that was left of a film that I wanted to make about the Hebron Massacre but never did. The idea was to edit the televized testimonies, given to the investigation commitee formed after the massacre, into a "court tv" kind of film that would expose the infrastructure of the occupation of the Palestinian territories. The film was never made because I could not obtain the rights to the televized testimonies, but one testimony was stuck in my mind - that of the murderer's wife in which she tells how banal everything was the evening before the massacre, how they had supper and how he took the kids in his arms, just like every other night, how she did not expect anything like what he did to happen, how big a surprise it was for her. Then, just before concluding the testimony, she asks the court to give her her husband's pistol which is hers by law, now that he is dead. And this was something that I needed to put in a film, not knowing what it would do or how it would be done - I put it in the box entitled AUGUST. Now it looks very natural to me that it is there.
The scene with kids in keffiyahs and then the kids in Tel Aviv Heights randomly commenting on "Arabs" - can you tell us more about these kids, that incident, and that area?
This was a demonstration of young settlers disguised as Arabs who come from a very good neighborhood in Tel Aviv (probably one of the best socio-economically, where the kids get the best education in the country.) They were trying to demonstrate to the residents what would happen if the Palestinians Right of Return was to be recognized in a future peace treaty. What they did was just put on Arab clothes, and the mere presence of "Arabs" in their neighborhood put the residents in panic. Later when the demonstration was over, I encountered a group of kids who approached the camera and just said a few things about the Arabs and what they think about them and what should be done to them.
The scenes with military personnel are also very striking to an audience - what were your feelings while shooting these scenes?
Basically, I feel that the military and the police are overdoing their job and are enjoying the power that is given to them in view if the security situation in Israel. But those scenes are significant for me because of my own behavior and I find it hard to watch them without feeling embarassed of my own conduct and aggression. This does not mean that I thought they were right in trying to stop me from shooting. I think that they were too lazy to recognize that in front of the security's temporary needs there are also some democratic basic needs.
In states like Israel, where there is a "situation" that allows the state to empower its forces with greater authority that ususal, a lot of times the reasons for the empowering of the forces are forgotten and this becomes a permanent and supposedly "normal" status. Israel still has in its law books a group of laws that were issued by the British Mandate during the 2nd World War, called "Emergency Laws" - basically, according to those laws the state can do anything. In practice, those laws are exercised only against Arab citizens of the state and against Palestinians from the occupied territories.
If someone wanted to learn more or "do something" - what might you suggest?
My pessimist feeling is that nothing can be really done. Of course, humanitarian aid is needed in the Occupied Territories, and if you can change a few of your friends wrong ideas about the "situation" - it can be good. But it is up to the two peoples that reside in Palestine/Israel to find a way to live together. Apparently at the moment, they are too busy spilling each others' blood to find the time to think about the future.