Interview with Rock in the Red Zone Director Laura Bialis
Interview by Contributing Editor Jessica E. Perry
Check out Jessica’s review of Rock in the Red Zone over at The Hot Pink Pen
JEP: What was your original inspiration for the film, where did it all start?
Well, I had been to Israel before and I had made another film that I had shot part of there…There’s something wonderful about Israeli culture and I would come back to LA sometimes [and] would get weird faces from people saying, “Oh what are you doing there?” you know stuff like that. And I felt like “wow if you guys could only experience this place that’s really cool and has this amazing vibe. So on one level I already had that as something I wanted to do which was to get across what Israeli’s are really like and what Israeli culture is like, and that was something I wanted to do for a long time, but I wasn’t sure exactly how to do it.
And then a friend of mine sent me these articles about this town that was getting bombed. When I tried to find the story in the mainstream American press—this was in 2007—it was not that easy to find. For the most part, people didn’t know about it. When I started [looking into] this town, the thing that came up was that it was this music city. It was kind of like this untold story that seemed to have an urgency to me that the world should know about in terms of what was happening there to these people.
I didn’t know about [it] when I was first listening to Israeli music, but around the same time that I heard about Sderot in May 2007, the band the Teapacks had just gone to Eurovision. So there had been these articles, including one in the New York Times, saying that this Israeli band was almost banned from the contest because its song [“Push the Button”] was too political.
When I started reading the lyrics—this was the same week I found out about the rocket problem—it appeared like in the song they were actually referencing the rockets. So you have this famous Israeli musician, who is originally from this town that’s getting hit, and keeps writing lyrics about it. To me, it was fascinating. It just kind of opened my mind to this kind of music, and that was kind of my entry point.
JEP: Artists from Sderot never seemed to shy away from the truth of their situation. What do you think it is about music in general that allows voices to be heard and powerful messages to be spread in times of crisis?
I think that as someone who’s listening, there’s something different about hearing it from teenagers that have written it into their songs as something that they absolutely have to express. And at the time that I showed up in Sderot, that was also what they were trying to do. They were trying to use their voice to get heard and to let people, even Israeli’s at the time, to take notice of what was happening there.
I would say all of Israel knew about it, but it wasn’t like they really understood what was going on there. It was the kind of thing where everyday on the news there would be like a little blurb that would be like “Two rockets landed today in Sderot, no one was injured and two people treated for shock … And now to the weather.”
You know that’s what it would be like. And as someone watching the news in another city, what does that mean that a rocket landed? That doesn’t mean anything to you. And what is shock by the way? What is that, what does it look like? You may not know what that looks like at all. Most people don’t, until they see the woman shaking in my film.
JEP: Yes, that image … some of the images were just so powerful. After your initial filming was completed you came back to LA, and then you went back to Sderot. What was it that brought you back despite the risk?
Well there were two things.
First of all, as a filmmaker, I felt like okay I’ve gone there, I shot for three weeks, I’ve collected a lot of footage … But I felt like I [had] a snapshot of these people and this place, but there’s no story here. So I felt like I [was] going to have to follow some artists and see what happens in their lives to be able to get a more engaging story than to just cut and paste talking heads telling you what it’s like there.
But also, I have to say that I was really drawn in by the people. I would be sitting in LA and I would hear “Oh, you know, there’s rockets again” or something [and] I felt this solidarity with them, and I felt like I kind of belonged. It was kind of a duty… I can’t really describe it, but I felt like I had to go there, and be there.
JEP: Yes, that was my next question, that if you hadn’t felt a connection and gone back how would the film have been different?
The other thing was, to be honest with you; it was cool what [the musicians] were doing. I mean it was fun to hang out with them, [and] its funny cause its not a “cool” place on the surface, it’s not Venice or the West Village or something where you feel like you’re gonna hang out at bars. There’s nothing like that thatyou can see, but when you start hanging out at people’s homes or some of the places that people would get together, there was just this vibe of friendship. So it was almost hard to leave the first time, and I just really wanted to go back.
JEP: At a certain point in the film, you stopped being just a filmmaker and instead, you really became a resident of Sderot with a personal stake in the bombardment. Do you think that the film’s strength, that thing that makes it stay with you, in part comes from your own first hand personal experiences translated into the film.
I feel like the story is really compelling and the people in the film are really compelling, and that is what I wanted to bring. I never in a million years thought I would do a personal film, and was really resistant to the idea.
But it is true that I became—at a certain point in the process of living there—I did become a part of the town, and I could feel that happening. You know there were moments where if I was just a filmmaker maybe I would have filmed where I didn’t film. The personal part was something I totally didn’t want, but we had an original cut where I was barely in it and there was something non-authentic.
Before we were even together, [Avi] was our pick for the main character. His music really lent itself to—you know he had to express himself about what was going on there. He couldn’t help himself that was like his survival mechanism. And that was what I had come there looking for. And the fact that I married my lead character [chuckles] like it’s not honest to make a movie about your lead character and then to not tell the audience you’re married. That was a hard thing for me to swallow, this whole thing that I was going to be in the movie.
JEP: Yes, I loved how he would take the camera from you and decide “You are going to be in the film … right now.” [Laughs]
Yeah, and originally, those were the places where I would totally scold him afterwards and be like “I’m going to have to cut this out, I don’t want to show this to my editor.” And then of course, my editor got her hands on it and ended up making a whole little bin of all those places … much to my horror.
You know, Avi also did not want to be in the movie.
JEP: Oh interesting…
He was really resistant in the beginning. Much in the way that I describe how the news handles Sderot and Israel, he felt that the reporters would sometimes come and show up and make stereotypical generalizations about the place. And he didn’t like that.
It was only when I came back after a few months and he was like, “Are you crazy? Who moves from LA to Sderot?” And I was like, “Well, you know I have to really feel this place and understand what’s going on here and I can’t do that if I’m just coming in for little bits at a time.” And he was like, “Oh! So this is not like a news thing, this is like art?” [Laughs]
JEP: That’s fascinating. Are you still located in Israel?
We live in Tel Aviv, although we are here in the States for the next ten months. We’re basing ourselves here with the movie and going around so we can promote it and show up with it. Because I feel like, as a filmmaker, you have to show up, you know? So this is it, if we want the message to get out, if we want to really tell this story, we have to go on the road. So that’s what we’re doing.
© Jessica E. Perry FF2 Media (12/30/15)
Photo Credits: Laura Bialis and Noam Teich