Menemsha Films releases Shelter on April 6th, 2018 at Ahrya Fine Arts, Monica Film Center, Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5 in Los Angeles.
NYC MOVIE GURU: When it comes to entertaining the audience while provoking the audience emotionally and intellectually, which of those elements was most challenging to tweak in the editing room?
Eran Riklis: Every director faces these challenges most of the time especially when you're trying to do something which balances between thriller, relationship movie, conflict in the Middle East. This film is, on the one hand, an extention of films like Lemon Tree and The Syrian Bride, but I have a new terrain especially because of the thriller element. That's new territory for me. That was actually my major challenge. Then, for the entertainment aspect, I'm a very big believer when it comes to all my films, even when they deal with a serious subject and feelings, I feel like cinema is always there to entertain in the sense that can feel everything from laughing to crying to the intellectual element. The word "entertainment" contains within it both the emotional and intellectual issues. At the end of the day, you're trying to touch the audience in whatever way it is. In the US, your ways of reaching a wide audience are basically limited. Trying to break through that barrier, I always remind myself that I'm in the entertainment business. When I have something important to say, I should try to communicate it to the widest audience possible. When I sit in the dark of the editing room, it's all about intuition. Me and my editor try to decide what moves the audience. If it moves me, it might move other people who think the way I do, but then I try to think about people who don't think the way that I do, and I try to each out to them. At the end of the day, it's touch and go. I did learn over the years to trust my audiences. When you make a film, you want to make that audiences in each country all feel the same.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would you consider yourself to be a humanist?
ER: I certainly consider myself a humanist and think that a humanist point of view in art in general is the only way you can tackle issues that are very sensitive and that people have thousands of opinions about. The issues are political, social and historical. It's about so many issues that are so hypersensitive to everyone. We live in a world where we respond so immediately. You show a film and it receives an immediate response on the internet. Everything is much closer emotionally. The only way to tackle the resistance that you might have within the audience is to come with a humanistic point of view and to put aside your prejudices and preconceptions. I want audiences to reconsider things when they walk out not by preaching to them, but by giving them a story with a humanistic point of view. At the end of the day, my compassion goes with my characters. They're normally ordinary people going through extraordinary events.
NYC MOVIE GURU: I believe that humanism can be found in any film whether it's made for $200 million or for just $200. Do you agree?
ER: I don't always teach because I don't have a lot of time, but when I do teach, I tell students that if Spielberg has a $200 million set with 100,000 extras and you have a $200 set with just 1 extra in the background, you have 1 camera and 5 crew members, you have to make the emotions real and the characters believable. We all have the same issues. It's not about the money, but about portraying human qualities and make it transcend the screen into people's hearts and minds.
NYC MOVIE GURU: To what extent did you want the audience to be aware of the camera?
ER: In the scene that you mentioned, I was trying to convey, through camera movements and the image that dissolves, the anxiety and inner termoil that Naomi is going through. In a way, it's a reflection of Hitchcock's films like Vertigo. There is an attempt to use the camera to convey inner feelings. It's always a good thing to do, but you don't want to get carried away. I always look back at my films, the camera serves the audience; I don't serve the camera. It's not about the camera. It's not about the screen. There's something that happens to all of us: we sit in the cinema and forget that you're watching a flat screen. You're actually inside the movie. The dream that's shared with many directors is that there is no camera; your eyes become the camera. We try to filter what you imagine in your head and what you can create onscreen. At first, it's a huge gap because to imagine in your mind takes so much effort on the screen that there's always some kind of compromise---not a budgetary one, but an artistic one. You're not always able to translate what you imagine into practical terms. It's a very big challenge. Even after I went to film school in the 80s, I came back to Israel and I made at least 206 commercials. Even though I came from that world, I come from literature. When you come from literature, you really try to do in films what a writer really tries to do in literature which is to let the audience imagine beyond what's on the screen. Even though you do get the result, you cannot escape the fact that any good director is manipulate the image and sound in order to manipulate his audience. I try to go beyond that so that the technique is not felt. I do not tend to go with technique over being absorbed.