Case Study: Who Are You? Tanya Yakovlev about her short Who Are You?.
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Case Study: Who Are You?

Tanya Yakovlev about her short Who Are You?.

Tanya Yakovlev was born in Brest, Belarus on March 18, 1986. From an early age, Tanya gravitated towards storytelling. During high school, she quickly found herself writing for the municipal newspaper and later founded two newspapers; one in Brest and one in Minsk, where she studied at the Belarusian State Academy of Communication. Writing for the latter newspaper, called Student Thoughts, Tanya’s storytelling ambitions reached a point of no return by risking herself and regularly writing against Lukashenko’s totalitarian regime. At the age of 20, Tanya decided to leave the dictatorship behind and moved to Israel to study photography. From then on, she graduated from the Tel-Aviv University studying a BA degree of Children’s Literature, History, and Cyberculture, worked for and with the well known Israeli artist Naomi Zucker, and eventually studied Video Art and Movie Directing.

"When you shoot your first movie, you are obviously going to make a ton of mistakes. You need these mistakes, these mistakes are absolutely necessary. Embrace them, love them. But - you also need a bit of luck."

14 augustus 2019

The duality of a bicultural identity

"I grew up in a dual identity home, to a Jewish mother and Belarusian father. From a very young age I heard two different narratives: Jewish and Christian. When you grow up in different cultures you learn that there are no right answers, you get used to the diversity of opinions, traditions, practices, and moreover, you find it difficult to belong to one 'Home' that defines who you are. Throughout the years, you find that you are kind of a hybrid human-being who eats gefilte fish (a weird Jewish culinary dish), who wears a David’s star necklace and colors eggs for Easter. At age 20, I moved to Israel, a place I strongly felt I could call 'Home' but found myself in the middle of the Middle-East, where people all to easily labeled me as 'Russian', which forced me once again to ask myself 'Who am I? Is this my Home? Where is my home? Do I even have a home?'"

A story from the heart

"When my teacher and mentor, Arik Kaplun, a well known Israeli director, told me the story I should choose for the final project must come from the heart and not from the head, I knew what I would choose. Arik said: 'Choose a story that you will always want to work on. Even if you had to stop, and 10 years passed, you’d want to pick it up right away'. Finding my 'home' is what I’ve been doing since I can remember myself. This would be my story."

"The first part of the script was easily resurrected from my memories: One time, when I was about 7 years old, I came home after my curfue. As a 'joke', my mother didn’t let me in saying she didn't know me. This was the starting point, and with Arik’s help, I developed the rest."

Preparations

"Once the script was ready, I knew I needed help to actually shoot the film. I had no funding and was on a low budget. Who are the best investors? Friends and family, of course. Apparently, the script was compelling enough to get them on board. It surprised me, but they really wanted to take part in it. (Tip: Don’t be shy to ask for help.)"

"I encountered one of the biggest problems at the start of it all - casting. I couldn’t find a young girl and an elderly actress that spoke Russian. In the case of the young girl, it was extremely difficult to get the parents' approval, some thought that the script is too dramatic for the young girl. I was desperate. Arik reminded me, once again, to turn to friends and family. As luck would have it, my niece Alina, who lives in Moscow, was visiting for the summer. Though she is not an actress, she tried it out and I did some shooting with her and it worked."

"A central symbol in the movie is the door to the apartment, and since this film comes from the heart, the door was just as important as the actors. How am I going to get the tenants, who live behind the perfect door, to agree to give me their apartment to shoot? Once again, friends to the rescue! As luck would have it, my friend Ksenia is an architect who knows a lot about the history of Tel Aviv and its buildings. She told me about a beautiful door in a building owned by the Tel Aviv municipality. Tel Aviv loves culture, so when I asked them for permission, it was wholeheartedly granted."

"Action!"

"When you shoot your first film and are on a very low budget, you can’t hire professionals. Everyone on the set was a first-timer, including myself of course. Everyone but Evgeny the soundman. Evgeny, who knew what he was doing, needed to keep reminding me, the Director, to yell “Action!”. Learning directing in the classroom is one thing, but actually shooting a film is another. I remember the thoughts that ran through my head when I first yelled 'Action!', it was basically something like 'OMG, this is happening!' and 'Oh shit, this is happening...'."

"When you shoot your first movie, you are obviously going to make a ton of mistakes. You need these mistakes, these mistakes are absolutely necessary. Embrace them, love them. But - you also need a bit of luck. Since the soundman was a bit expensive for my budget, I couldn’t take him to scope out the locations. I don't recall if he asked me to check for ambient echos, but even if he didn’t, I probably didn’t understand its crucial importance. Upon setting up the first day of shooting, I remember the look on his face when he saw that we were shooting in a five-story hallway. After demonstrating the deep echo with a single clap, he asked 'Tanya, you brought something with you to deal with this… right?'. Again luck was on our side, on the first floor of the building was a children summer camp, laden with mattresses and pillows. The next two hours were spent taping mattresses and pillows to the hallway walls. And it worked. You live, you learn."

On set

"Shooting took two full days. On the first day, we shot the first scene with the young mother and girl. The actress playing the young mother, Tamara Klingon, was 8 months pregnant, so we needed to be quick about it. After I said my first 'Action!' my niece, Alina, completely blacked-out and couldn’t say a word. Like a deer in the headlights. Anna Stark, my friend and set designer kneeled down behind Alina and we shot Tamara’s part. Later on, I needed to reshoot with my niece on another day with as little crew members as possible to create an intimate atmosphere where she would perform well."

The post-production

"After we finished shooting it took another 6 months to find an editor and the right musicians who would compose the musical score and edit the sound design. At the end of these 6 months, just as I was losing hope and having creeping thoughts that directing film may not be for me, Yoel, my spouse, my love, who was helping me with the logistics and supporting me in any possible aspect, took me to a music concert. Kaley Halperin, a rising Israeli musician, performed her first album. Out of nowhere, the first song she sang, began with the words 'Who are you?', the title of my film! I looked at Yoel and was shocked. This was it. I approached Kaley after the concert, pitched her the idea to work on the film, and that was that."

Who Are You? will compete in the Official Competition at SHIFT Film Festival 2019 for the title of Best Film and Audience Award.

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