Family Rivalry

FilmInk recently spoke with Israeli, New York born, director Joseph Cedar about his Oscar nominated ‘Footnote’ which delves into a great rivalry between a father and son.

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"I don't go into a project knowing exactly what it will feel like visually; I just have this intuitive understanding of what each scene requires, but I'm not really able to articulate what it will be similar to, or what kind of genre it fits into."

When FilmInk talked to the two-time Oscar nominee, Joseph Cedar, about his new film, Footnote, and the process of crafting a film, it was hard not to feel enamoured with his enthusiasm, and intrigued by his explanation of the journey a film takes from its inception to its final form.

"I think it is the most mysterious part of the process of making a film - finding the tone. Because, it is never just a result of one thing, it is so many different elements that come together to create a tone that is specific to this story."

For Cedar, the filmmaking process is akin to putting together a puzzle that does not have a perfect fit, but is caressed until the best solution is found.

It is impossible not to see the parallel between Cedar's filmmaking process and his own unique life. The 43-year-old, New York born writer/director moved to Israel at the age of six, and after graduating from Hebrew University with degrees in Philosophy and History of Theatre, served as a paratrooper in the Israeli Army, before returning to New York to study cinema at New York University's Film School.

Footnote, which earned Cedar his second nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars (the first being Cedar's 2007 effort, Beaufort), tells the story of the great rivalry between two professors, Eliezer Shkolnik and his son Uriel. Much like the process of finding a tone during production, the story evolved quite drastically from the original inspiration.

"The initial idea came from something that almost happened to me, but then, it developed into a story that is just much richer than that," Cedar explains. "I thought it was going to be a film about the need for recognition and some kind of connection between that need and your relationship with your parents, specifically your father. But then once the film found its place in the Talmudic department at The Hebrew University, it took on all these other layers that in my mind became the centre of the story.

"The idea that a father is not only proud of his child's achievements, but sometimes jealous, is something that I felt is an interesting emotion to investigate," he continues.

Cedar is quick to explain that while the film is not autobiographical, it stems from an innate fear he has. "It deals with a certain sentiment that might not be part of my life right now, but is something that I am afraid of."

Ever since the film premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, it has done nothing but garner recognition, awards and praise for its director. It won him Best Screenplay at Cannes and the Dublin International Film Festival; Israeli Academy Awards for Best Picture, Screenplay and Direction; and as already mentioned, his second Oscar nomination.

When asked about his thoughts on the large recognition the film has received, he couldn't hide the amusement from his voice. "Considering the subject matter of my film, it is a little ironic, and I enjoy that irony.

"Recognition is a big issue for me, and it is why I made this film; it touches two sides of what recognition is: the happy side that makes you proud of your accomplishments, and there is the other side that makes you feel a little ashamed that you need it in the first place," he says.

"So, the film and the whole root that this film took from Cannes to the Oscars was strangely connected to the content of this story, and the characters," he adds.

While Footnote eventually lost the Academy Award to fellow Iranian film, Asghar Farhadi's A Separation, Cedar could only see the positives this loss reveals about the current boom in Israeli cinema.

"The film industry in Israel has become very dynamic," Cedar enthuses. "There is a healthy competition, and the result is that a filmmaker knows that if he wants to stand out he has to make an exceptional film; a film that not only works and functions in an entertaining way, but also, is unique in some way, either stylistically or thematically.

"If you look at the whole industry you feel that there is a bubbling. There is always a sense that people are trying to do something new and something that hasn't been tried before. I think that is a sign of a very healthy industry."

Footnote will be released April 19.

Photo credit: Joseph Cedar, courtesy of Getty Images/ Michael Buckner.

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