An interview with Adva Reichman
Adva Reichman is an Israeli writer-director based in Los Angeles. She is a graduate of the TV & Film Production MFA program at USC School of Cinematic Arts. Most recently, she wrote and directed her film, Something to Live For, which was shot in Israel and dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The film screened at prestigious festivals around the world. Before moving to LA, Adva worked in the Israeli news and on documentaries that revolved around major terror attacks and kidnappings that took place in Israel during the 70’s and 80’s. Her experiences with these jobs have inspired many of her writings.
When did you realize you want to be a filmmaker?
Ever since I can remember I wrote poems. It was like seeing images and little stories that I had to put down on paper. I remember I was a soldier and my commanding officer told me he found a folder with poems in my desk top at my office. I was worried for a moment, but he just asked me about it and told me he read a few. Then he ended up asking me to write the song for our unit. So, I was happy that he enjoyed it. In my early 20’s I was in a complicated relationship. Everything came pouring out and once I ended that relationship I couldn’t find the words anymore. I hardly wrote anything for about 3 years, but something inside of me still craved to be around film and story-telling. So, in undergrad I studied communications and took a writing class. It was as if the gates were opened. Only this time and since then it’s in the form of screenplays. I found my voice again, and it proved to me what I already knew - I need to do film. It was in undergrad as well when I directed for the first time. unlike other film aspects, this was love at first sight. Taking words out of the page and making them real. Seeing it come to life and choosing how. once I experienced it, that was it for me. I knew what I wanted.
I see a common thread in many of your work, what inspired those?
Throughout my life I found myself constantly surrounded by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I served as an Operation Sergeant in Jenin, The West Bank, in a unit that bridged between the army forces and the Palestinians in our regime. All of a sudden, I had this responsibility and became their first contact, if they needed anything. Later in life I worked in the Israeli news, covering the 2014 war and non-stop terror. I also worked on 4 documentaries that revolved around terror attack in the 70’s and 80’s including ‘Rescue bus 300’. When I moved to LA, those events stayed with me. Writing about them was the only thing I could do to deal with it. ‘Project fog’ is the first story I started working on. After the 2014 war, I needed to find a way to let the pain out and this story was born.
Then in ‘Something to Live For’ I wanted to put a strong woman in the lead. I tried to imagine what I would do, who I would be under different circumstances. I wanted to explore the conflict from the point of view of the other side and tried to keep politics out of it.
Then I co-wrote ‘Samir’. Financed by Warner Bros, ‘Samir’ is an adaptation to ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ and follows a Middle Eastern man who was framed for terror and sent to Guantanamo. It premiered in Heartland Film Festival in October. All of those touch on who we are as Middle Easterns and the choices we make but explore them from different aspects.
"Something to Live For"
Something to live for was the first one you both wrote and directed. How was that process?
‘Something to Live For’ revolves around a pregnant Palestinian woman whose husband died in the Israeli prison. With the help of Hamas, she plans a terror attack in Israel to revenge his death. The premature birth of her baby makes her reconsider, but will Hamas let her off the hook?
The production process wasn’t easy. It’s a very controversial topic and I knew it’ll make everything twice as hard. I had actors who wanted to audition but then changed their mind or left after they got the role, producers who backed out or wanted to change the message of the film, debates on which words to use and not to use in the script so the meaning will reflect exactly what we wanted and so on. Everything was delicate and had to be thoroughly checked to make sure we do it right. It was a lengthy process. Luckily for me, I found an amazing producer, Nir Dvortchin, and associate producer, Gal Dor, who fought to make it happen.
We had many interesting moments on set. We got the army’s approval and shot the border scene next to the actual border. While on set we had to pause several times and let Palestinians go through, because they needed to cross the real border and go home to their families. It was surreal. Here we are, shooting a scene with soldiers, people trying to cross while one of them wears a bomb, in a made belief border, while they were on their way to the real one.
That’s the reality we live in.
"Something to Live For"
How was the film received so far?
I was concerned we’ll be rejected because the film might rub people the wrong way. One of my professors was even worried I’ll make Hamas too angry and get hurt. But I’m happy to say we’ve received lots of love and screened all over the world in beautiful prestigious festivals. I am proud, because we were proof that Jews and Arabs can come together, work, create something meaningful and have fun while doing it. It gave me hope.
Has this experience made you want to shoot Project Fog?
Definitely. ‘Project Fog’ follows an undercover Israeli agent who infiltrated Hamas in Gaza and is ordered to locate a kidnapped Israeli soldier. Shockingly, he finds out his son is one of the kidnappers and is now forced to choose between his son and his country, while trying to keep his identity a secret. So, it’s set in the same world as ‘Something to Live For’ but explores new characters and is able to go deeper on what both sides go through. The idea behind it, as in something to Live For, is to keep the conversation going. To show that nothing is black or white in this conflict and that we must find a way to talk so that hopefully one day we can all live in peace.
What are you working on right now?
I have a short film in post-production that deals with date rape. It’s called Gray because the lead character isn’t exactly sure about what happened or why. In the film, Hannah feels nervous before her date, maybe in some deep level she knows it’s not going to end well. Eventually she has fun and when she’s comfortable they start to drink. Too much alcohol is involved, and her date is worried about driving back. Living closer to the bar, she invites him to stay the night. She becomes fuzzier and fuzzier as the night continues. They make out in bed, but when it comes to having sex, she says ‘no’. When she wakes up, she realizes her ‘no’ has turned in to his ‘yes’. Unfortunately, too many of us had experienced rape or sexual assault during our lives, myself included which is why I wrote this. Not being able to remember everything is terrifying in my eyes because you’re never really sure what was done to you. And why your say on what happens to your body is ignored.
After working on these stories, I felt like I needed something lighter, and found a way to combine my love for animals, as a vegan activist, and my skills in film. I recently shot a commercial for Bark N Bitches, which is a beautiful store in West Hollywood that saves dogs from kill shelters. They bring them to the store where they stay until they get adopted. All the dogs get medical care and are free to run around and socialized with other dogs and people. it’s a magical place that does so much good, so I knew I wanted to be a part of it. The skillful DP, Adriana Serrato, came on board and we made it happen. The commercial will be up soon on their Instagram. It was definitely funny directing dogs and finding myself worrying about different kind of problems on set. For example, trying to stop the dogs from peeing all over our equipment. We had such a good time that at the end, our second magnificent DP, Anthony Mangini, adopted one of the dogs. After this great experience, I realized I wanted to do more so I’m in contact with a few other animal organizations to help bring attention to their causes.
Speaking of working with actors, tell us about your work process with them.
It honestly varies for each actor and each role. I try to make them understand their character and the world they’re in, by any means necessary. I was fortunate enough to work with talented hard-working actors who were extremely committed so we were able to go as deep as possible.
My short film ‘Silhouette’ follows a burlesque dancer who’s deciding to get a double mastectomy after finding out she’s carrying the BRCA gene. Seeing her mom passing away from cancer, she understands it might ruin her job, but will save her life. The wonderful Suzanne Dodd played the mom, and she herself was going through chemo before we shot. Because the subject was important for her, she agreed to take her wig off and act with her real hair which she usually tended to hide because of the damage it suffered after chemo. Once she took the wig off, there was a vulnerability we were able to channel for her role. The skillful Sagan Rose, who played the lead, used her real burlesque skills to not only dance in the film, but to understand the price the character will pay. In one of the scenes she takes her shirt off and imagines herself without her breasts. We talked about the emotions and rehearsed, but she only took her shirt off when we actually shot. I think feeling this exposed in front of the crew for the first time, made her emotions even higher, and the outcome even more moving.
In ‘Something to Live For’, the beautifully talented Anuar Jour, played Nabila and the gifted Mozart Kteilat played her Hamas’ handler. I wanted to instill fear in Anuar, and a sense of power and authority in Mozart. So, with their consent, we tied Anuar’s hands behind her back and covered her eyes as Mozart walked around her and threatened her. The transformation in both of them was clear. In another time, we practiced the stabbing and when Anuar realized she won’t be trying to stab the air, but the actor in front of her, she started crying. Up to that point, we were laughing in the rehearsal, but in that moment, it hit her and became real. That overwhelming feeling never went away, and it didn’t matter that it was a prop knife, the understanding of what she was doing had already sunk in.
Where can we follow you and your work?
Something to Live For - Trailer