FilmWaves Articles

This is an interview we did for Filmwaves, a British magazine about independent films, just after we’d finished shooting “Borges and I” and before we started editing.

by Marco Zee-Jotti

We met Yoni Bentovim and Emily Harris after the success of their new short film Three Towers at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and winning Best Short Film at Raindance Film Festival in London. They graduated from the London Film School and set up a small production company in London. With them we explore what they believe making a film is all about.

Marco Zee-Jotti – Would you like to introduce Indivision for us?

Yoni Bentovim – Indivision is me and Emily, we are both producers and directors. We met at the London Film School and soon discovered that we have the same way of looking at films and cinema, so we started our relationship working together, and later set up Indivision Films which is a sort of vehicle for production. It became our way of producing our own projects.

MZJ – I know you feel passionately about film, how would you define your projects?

YB – For us any project must be really distinctive. I think that a film is a place where we can ask many questions, a film has space for a lot of philosophy. We love making films that ask questions, examine things and check boundaries, rather than just entertain. When you make a film you really need to concentrate and you have to love it in order to keep on doing it, so the subject has to grab us for that amount of time and challenge us as we go along. This is our way of choosing projects. Also, we are really interested in reality and the way people react to reality. For example, our film Notes from Rishikesh, shot in India a few years ago, is sort of testing the boundaries between documentary and fiction.

Right now we have just finished shooting Borges and I, a feature which is pretty much about the same thing. It is about a guy who decides to make a film without anybody else knowing it, he becomes addicted to the sensation of making a film and he sort of separates himself from reality.

For us it is also important to think about the format. After Three Towers we found it very difficult to find funding, even if we won an awards with that short and others. We did not want to wait too long, because I think that the important thing is to keep making films and not be bitter. We think that there is always an excuse not to do but there is always a possibility to do. So we decided to make a microbudget film using a story that has a direct connection to the format. And this is the only format this film could have been shot on. In films we used 35mm and we exploited the details and the contrast that film can offer. We wouldn’t necessarily shoot a drama which was intended for 35mm on digital.

(still from Three Towers)

MZJ – How did this idea apply to Three Towers, for instance?

YB – In Three Towers the format was HDCAM and we chose this because most of the people in the film were non-actors. And you need to shoot again and again. You need the flexibility of digital video, but maintaining the good quality and detail because it is a very visual film. Format has a lot to do with content. Matching the format to the content. But it is also dictated by practicalities, in this rural village in Italy there was no electricity or running water, and 35mm demands electricity for lighting.

Borges and I is an example, we need a realistic way of shooting that makes it believable, and the film plays on this idea of being real and not real. The tension between real events and storytelling.

In Three Towers we explored it by working with non-actors and tried to make them not act but feel what is happening in time, which is different from our time in a sense that their way of life has a different pace. Three Towers is all about how the world from outside comes into the life of this couple and changes it. In the Western world we live with news all the time, but we do not notice how that news change our lives.

In Three Towers we tried to slow everything down and see the effect of this small piece of news (it’s about 9/11) that comes from the outside. Because we present their life as predictable as it can be any small diversion becomes noticeable. The bit of news has a meaning and it affects their relationship. So if you want one question the film poses it is: how do we process the world outside?

We made another film called Machine, where we also explored the reality of time. In Machine the main character invents a machine to go back in time but as his days are all the same so he cannot really tell if he is going back in time or not.

MZJ – What is it for you a ‘microbudget’?

YB – It’s basically a film that we are capable of making ourselves without any backing. However, we get a lot of sponsorship in kind. For example, for Three Towers we had a camera almost for free. People in London very approachable and friendly, the Shooting People network is really useful, there is a big community of people who are willing to help and participate. Also, you know, people often invest in cars or life comforts… for us making our own films is very very important, so we are not ashamed to say that sometimes we use some of our own money to make something. We don’t have a car or many life comforts though. I think that it is better to do something very low-budget than do nothing waiting for the funding.

MZJ – How do you go about writing a script?

YB – We have great ideas but we are not writers and we looked for a writer for a long time, putting ads in Shooting People and other places. Three Towers was written by Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret and they just won the Camera d’Or at Cannes Film Festival for their first feature Jellyfish. They wrote the script for us after knowing our style from seeing our film Machine. But there are many good screenwriters out there, it’s not about who is the best writer but about taste, whether there is chemistry between the writers and us. Some are too busy trying to write very emotionally dramatic scenes, and Emily and I do not actually believe in make-believe, we’d rather like a script that makes us think. Often we favour slow films as they allow you the space for thinking. We do not favour intense drama, but that’s, as I said, just our taste.

MZJ – I understand what you mean, in a long shot there is time to dwell on details in the frame beyond the main character or action, details which we may not see and think about if the editing is too fast.

YB – Yes, I agree and then something happens and you are back in the film. We are so used to television where everything happens fast. Cinema is a great place to try and look at time differently, rather than keeping everybody constantly emotionally involved. Having said that, in our new project we use DV and in DV you can’t really experience time as you do in 35mm because it’s not as rich. In DV you tend to shoot a lot of close ups or medium shots, it’s a different attitude. In this film we put aside our love for slow Ozu-like shots.

MZJ – In your films you are keen to explore the meaning of ‘reality’.

EH – Yes, the conflict between what we understand is real or documentary and what is fictional, where do we draw that line? Everything is about reality but we are interested in playing with the borders between what is real and what is not real, and that might be in the context of a documentary or of a fiction film. A perfect example is Close Up where we see those borders being crossed. Or, more importantly, not being able to see where those borders were crossed.

Another important point is that cinema can be a modern forum for philosophy, people do not read philosophy books as much anymore, so what’s happening is that those ideas can be put into a film and on a screen and that’s what we are interested in doing, finding a way to ask those questions, and it is asking the questions that is really important, the answers are not that important

MZJ – You said that a film is a place for asking philosophical questions, which one precisely?

EH – In Machine we ask questions about time and our perception of time; Three Towers is about how we are influenced by media, how information travels and penetrates inner cities, rural areas, how the world has become so small. Seeing the Twin Towers falling is one thing but hearing about it in a rural environment where you have no exposure to radio or television is another thing.

A love story is great and emotional and human at one level, but the way we analyse information as human beings is what connects us. The other thing is that as a company, because we want to ask these questions, what we remind ourselves of is that it doesn’t matter if we fail because we are exploring something new, every time we come up with a new idea it’s scary because film is so expensive and there are so many people involved. It’s such an endeavour that it’s easy to say oh let’s wait until the script is perfect, or when we get a marketable idea, or when we get funding. When you are driven by asking questions and exploring ideas and taking things to a next step, it really doesn’t matter if you fail at the end, it doesn’t have to be perfect but interesting.

MZJ – What is failure?

EH – Yeah, and also what is success. Failure in terms of film would be having to put the film on a shelf where no one will be able to see it, or if no one ever gets to see the film because it never passed post-production. For us it’s really about people connecting to the film, whether it’s a small or big venue or festival.

MZJ – What is your experience of touring film festivals?

YB – Film festivals are great opportunities to meet people, producers, distributors, etc. In England there are a few bodies, like the British Council or Film London, that help filmmakers. They have lists of important festivals for short films. If you get in they help you distribute your film. Three Towers got some help. It’s difficult to transfer your film onto 35mm, and many festivals only accept 35mm copies, but the British Council can also help you with this. At a festival, it’s also great to see your film on a big screen, and the audience reaction. When we screened Three Towers at the Tribeca film festival in New York the audience response was fantastic.

MZJ – How easy is it to get into film festivals though?

EH – It’s difficult because for every short film festival there are about three thousand films sent in and they can only choose about 50-70 depending on the festival, it’s incredibly competitive and amazing films do not get seen, so it can be very disheartening for a filmmaker.

We had a situation with Machine where we were feeling the effects of rejection after rejection and at one point we decided to get a few filmmakers together and rent out the NFT for a free screening. We advertised in Time Out and just got people to see it. After that we started to do really well at festivals. So sometimes the film has to be given legs and it will run, sometimes you have to take a leap of faith, if you really believe in your project you have to make a screening happening. The thing is that the film doesn’t come alive until someone else sees it, it’s that simple.


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