Posted On: Film
By guest Omri Lior
I am an Israeli documentary filmmaker. My project “Words with a View” is about the life experience and work of iconic Israeli poets and writers and their impact on the foundation of the Israeli culture.
Barbara Tuchman has so beautifully said “Books are the carriers of civilization. Without [them] history is silent, literature is dumb”…
My project, therefore, was born out of the premise that the creators of books are indeed the pillars on which civilizations and societies stand, and therefore they (poets and writers) are central to every nation and its constructed identity. I am fortunate to be living and working in such a young country, like Israel, where I can witness the creation of a new culture, and document those responsible for providing the glue that bonds the nation together.
My project “Words with a View” started more than ten years ago and has combined my two passions; Literature and film-making.
Through the process of documentation, and because I have a large body of testimonials of many writers, I have been able to see the richness and complexity, the elements that make up Israeli culture. Each writer offers only one perspective but together they form a body of knowledge that paints the foundations of Israeli experience that is currently disappearing. Without such documentation the combined experience will vanish.
Talking about vanishing Israeli experiences, let me share with you mine, and explain how and why I combine my two passions—literature and film-making
I was born in Haifa, Israel, in 1952, an era with no computers, video games or television. Luckily, I lived next to the Municipal Library and as soon as I knew how to read, it became my second home. That library fostered my love for reading and my passion for photography. Next to my favorite shelf was a display of “Life” magazine. With every new issue, I would flip right to the “Picture of The Week” which was magical to me. I would sit and look at those pictures, visualizing the story behind them and imagining myself being the photographer. It is there and then that I knew I wanted to study film. When time came to apply for colleges, no university in Israel could offer Telecommunications and Film Studies. Therefore I headed to SDSU in California to pursue my passion. After graduation, I returned to Israel and for the next 25 years worked as a producer/director – making various films and TV programs. However, my passion for Hebrew Literature and Poetry never faded and at the age of forty-five I studied Hebrew literature at Ben Gurion University of the Negev and there my project, “Words with a View”, had its first seeds and later on its first fruit.
For one of my courses I researched a poem written by the prominent Israeli poet Chaim Gouri who was born in Tel Aviv, in 1925. Each aspect of his life represents a historical or cultural event in Israel and his experiences mirror those of a particular generation in Israel.
Chaim Gouri studied at the Kadoorie Agricultural High School (together with the murdered former Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin). He joined the Palmach (The Fighting Youth Troops) and in 1947 was sent to Hungary to assist Holocaust survivors to immigrate to Mandate Palestine. Gouri studied literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and worked as a Journalist. As a journalist he achieved fame with his coverage of the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann.
During my research about Chaim Gouri’s poem, I was looking for first hand answers regarding:
The origin of the poem,
The usage of the language, and
The social, political and literary influences.
I wanted to inquire about the connection between his personal experiences and his writing because the secondary materials simply did not satisfy me.
So, I thought to myself… “Chaim Gouri is a living poet, living in Jerusalem; he probably has the answers”.
My professor Prof. Yoram Bronowsky approved my proposal to interview Gouri for my final assignment.
An hour later I called Chaim Gouri who said: (and I quote) “come tomorrow at 2 pm, for 30 minutes, right before my nap”.
I could hardly sleep that night… as you can imagine, to interview Chaim Gouri was a big honor. I was very excited!
Although, I was allotted 30 minutes, our conversation lasted more than three and a half hours. It was magical and I knew then that I had a treasure in my camera.
Reflecting on this interview, I realized that documenting him, capturing his life story, his thoughts, views, reading his poems and sharing his personal feelings in the intimacy of his work room, revealed my new understanding about the connection between Hebrew literature, poetry and Israeli culture. Themes, on which their writing focus, provide us with a variety of cultural references to sorrow, pain, friendship, war, heroism, in the emerging new Israeli culture.
Following my experience with Chaim Gouri I realized how important it would be to document other prominent writers, and build a series of films that would be called “Words with a View”. Combining them all together would create the tapestry of the Israeli culture. I believe it is a treasure, a foundation, an authentic voice of their impact and unique inspiration on the Israeli culture.
And I have been doing it ever since.
The name of my project “Words with a View” portrays the elements that are essential to the content of the films.
The word View signifies “a landscape seen from a particular point”. Hence the expression “point of view” which is applied also to a way of looking or examining any abstract issue. The “Words” which are the foundation to any massage or description of an event or thoughts or feelings, are being talked about and described from an angle which looks at the internal from the outside. The words which are parts of a book or a poem are seen, by my documentation, from a deeper view which takes us to the period of the writer even before he wrote them, while they were still being processed by thought. Later on those “words” present us another “view”, and this time from the angle of the effect they created having been published, and their impact on the readers. Their influence was such that it created lines of thought adopted by various groups of society in different eras of their life experience.
The words are being viewed also from the inside. They are part of the perspective they describe. They are the tool and the result. Words will always have a view. The words are the shadow of the Views and can be seen even in the dark.
For example, Yonat and Alexander Sened’ s book ‘A Land without Shade’ was created out of the landscape of the desert in the period of the life of the pioneers, and out of the point of view of the feelings of deprivation that they had as a result of the Holocaust and the War of Independence. The words created and written were born out of that landscape which can also be seen as a landscape or ‘view’ of emotions and thoughts.
When you look at any nation’s history or culture, the View, in my opinion, is created by the word but also creates the Word.
In my project, by filming and editing the interviews which talk about the “words” I myself create a View. On the one hand, the series “Words with a View” examines the actual views, the landscapes which helped shape the words of the writers who were documented. On the other hand ,“Words with a View” is a complete look at those writers which let us understand and preserve their experiences which mirror our culture.
My project allows audiences to have an insight into the lives of these literary icons and hear their authentic voices. They all create a cultural texture that is essential for the collective understanding of who we are.
Following my initial idea which was creating a film anthology of eminent Israeli poets and writers, these materials became a unique archive which:
• Preserves documents with historical information.
• Provides a legacy for future generations
• Provides a resource of research and education, serving both institutions and the public.
• And, it is also a way of teaching the Hebrew language.
I choose poets and writers for my project on the basis of the following criteria:
• Their recognition and acknowledgments by the Israeli society.
• Their being winners of the “Israel Price for Literature & Poetry”
• Their being Poets and writers that are considered as the “Pillar of Culture” of Israeli modern poetry & literature.”
I was fortunate enough to capture and document most of the living first generation of poets and writers. These include prominent names such as, Nathan Shacham, Chaim Gouri, Tuvia Rivner, Yehudit Hendel, Aharon Megged… All are in their 90’s.
I followed that by documenting the “New wave” generation of poets and writers, all of which are in their 80s. These include AB Yehoshuaa, Ruth Almog, Yitzhak Averbuch Orpaz, Amnon Shamosh and Israel Pinkas.
Each documentary film includes:
• An interview with the poet or writer
• Filming in a location that is meaningful to their work and in their life.
• And a collection of archive materials.
In each interview I ask them to:
• Share with me their intimate work space.
• Describe their work habits.
• Reveal what led them to write including the reason behind a topic and the language style (personal, political and social events during that period.
• Share meaningful childhood memories.
• Personal biography.
• Read from a selection of their work.
The creation of the film about Chaim Gouri which is called “I’m a Civil War” became a template for my other films.
Currently, the series “Words with a View” consist of 22 interviews of eminent poets and writers. 14 of them are full length documentaries. These films along with my lectures are screened at film festivals, theaters, cultural centers, special event and universities.
Only after 10 films I found out that each of them contains the components portraying a cross section of Israel’s culture through different topics: and here are some examples:
Parenthood – Aharon Megged Talks about his father with high admiration.
Childhood – Ruth Almog writes about her father’s death and the effect it took on her life.
Living habitat Yonat immigrated from Poland right into the kibutz which is located in the desert. Her adaptation was not easy.
Social and political events Chaim Gouri cannot accept the adaptation of east Jerusalem but made it as part of his life.
My mission is to continue documenting prominent Israeli poets and writers and preserve their legacy for future generations.
My vision is that this project will serve as inspiration for others, to capture and document other artists in various domains such as music, theatre and art that influence our culture.