Times of Israel Presents

Foxtrot’s Samuel Maoz talks fate, potted meat, ministerial controversy

Writer-director says his award-winning film is not all negative, and when he criticizes Israel, ‘I do it because I worry; I do it for love’

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Director Samuel Maoz, center, and actors Lior Ashkenazi, left, and Sarah Adler pose during the photo call for the film "Foxtrot" at the 74th Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
Director Samuel Maoz, center, and actors Lior Ashkenazi, left, and Sarah Adler pose during the photo call for the film "Foxtrot" at the 74th Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

Samuel Maoz, director of the award-winning movie “Foxtrot,” and Times of Israel editor David Horovitz touched on the controversy surrounding the film, but also on Maoz’s personal journey and craft as a filmmaker, in a 25-minute onstage conversation following a Sunday night, October 15 English-subtitled screening of the film in Jerusalem.

The latest Times of Israel Presents event was held at the Lev Smadar Theater, which was sold out. It was the first of two ToI screenings of the film — “Foxtrot” was also screened with English subtitles in Tel Aviv on Monday to an audience of over 400 — as locals streamed in to view a film that has received so much press for both its messages and the reactions it has stirred, particularly from Culture Minister Miri Regev, who considers it to be anti-Israel.

‘Foxtrot’ writer-director Samuel Maoz (center) with Times of Israel editor David Horovitz (right) and Times of Israel Presents executive producer Matthew Kalman, after a screening of the movie and onstage interview with Maoz at Jerusalem’s Lev Smadar movie theater, October 15, 2017 (ToI staff)

Maoz touched on questions of fate, repression and denial, Israeli society, the Holocaust, the army and Israeli leadership. He said the idea for the film first took root after he refused to send his young daughter to school by taxi when she got up late one morning during the Second Intifada, and made her take her usual No. 5 Tel Aviv bus instead. The No. 5 was blown up that day, and he was convinced for an hour that she was dead. It turned out that she missed that bus by seconds. Thus, a core element of the film — exploring the things we control and those that are “beyond our control.”

Read The Times of Israel’s full interview: Samuel Maoz choreographs Israel’s cycle of trauma in ‘Foxtrot’

Horovitz noted that the film is not typical entertainment. But it is not all negative either, retorted Maoz. He noted, laughing, that it includes “an homage” to Loof (the potted meat that was an IDF staple for decades). And he pointed to the sometimes humorous allegories and metaphors especially in what he called the film’s “surrealistic” middle section, set at an IDF roadblock, as well as his ultimate message: his hope that Israeli society “should strive to be better.”

“If I criticize the place I live, I do it because I worry,” he said. “I want to protect it; I do it for love.”

Times of Israel’s Ops & Blogs editor Miriam Herschlag interviews Foxtrot’s writer-director Samuel Maoz at a Tel Aviv screening on October 16, 2017 (Matthew Kalman)

Foxtrot won the Silver Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival. It also received eight Ophir awards and will be Israel’s Foreign Language submission to the 2018 Academy Awards.

The film has been widely acclaimed, but it has also provoked controversy and debate about contemporary Israeli reality. Regev, who allegedly has not seen the film, called for the state to end funding for films that can be used as “a weapon of propaganda for our enemies.”

“Foxtrot,” which is being screening globally, draws full houses wherever it is shown, said Maoz. He said he has been thanked by many Israeli diplomats whose embassies and consulates have shown the film and told him that his work accomplishes a year’s worth of pro-Israel effort for them, simply by showing that Israeli soldiers are human beings. But after telling him this, he said, they also ask him not to tell the minister they’ve said so.

Maoz noted that 86% of the funding actually came from abroad, meaning it was actually bringing money into Israeli state coffers.

Maoz also went beyond the controversy, sharing some of the secrets of his craft and his personal journey to becoming a filmmaker.

He said that he worked on the film for a total of about four years, perfecting camera work that ranges from closeup shots of the actors’ faces to wide shots of the landscapes on the northern border.

“I don’t cut until the shot is perfect,” he said.

Lior Ashkenazi and Sarah Adler in ‘Foxtrot.’ (Courtesy)

It is a method Maoz developed during his teen years, after receiving an 8-millimeter camera for his bar mitzvah from his bus driver father. The two were 1970s movie buffs, he said; Maoz’s dad drove the Herzliya bus to a nearby movie theater, and would see every movie for free, before driving the viewers back home.

“We loved westerns, kung fu, all the 70s hits,” said Maoz, who often came along for the ride.

When he received the 8-mm camera, Maoz immediately set it up on nearby railroad tracks, preparing for a particular shot. The train neared, went over the camera, and smashed it.

His (late) father bought him another one the next day — a gesture of parental support he has never forgotten, said Maoz — which he went on to use to make dozens of films, often casting his father. Said Maoz: In those early movies, “he always played the bad guy.”

The Times of Israel hosted two exclusive screenings of “Foxtrot,”
with English subtitles, on Sunday, October 15 at Lev Smadar, Jerusalem, and Monday, October 16 at Lev 1, Tel Aviv. There was a Q&A with Samuel Maoz after each screening.

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