Interview: Dani Tenenbaum (Director – ‘Guides’)

Director Dani Tenebuam‘s short film ‘GUIDES‘, takes a peek at today’s kids: they are responsible for the young generation’s education, guide in the local youth movements, and are zionist kids with values, They are independent and with no parental advisory.

But when the activities end, the boredom begin.

We spoke with Dani Tenenbaum after ‘GUIDESIndieWorks “Golden Whiskets” Best of Fest Award on April 3, 2014. Dani gave us a comprehensive insight as to the history behind the film, the specifics of shooting on location in Israel, what projects he has in the works and much more.

Read our review of ‘GUIDES’HERE

What was the first aspect of the ‘Guides’ concept that occurred to you? Was it a specific setting, character, theme…?
I grew up in that environment, in that youth movement, and was a counselor for many years, even as an adult. I never saw or witnessed a story like I presented, but I heard about similar cases in Israel and in the US. What drew me to this specific story is the thin line that is also a conflict between the kids that, on one hand are in charge of the lives and education of younger kids, and on the other hand are just teenagers who want to rebel and test the limits.

In many years of working with kids, both at risk and privileged, I noticed that a lot of the parents are just too busy to look after their children in a way that they really understand them. In most cases both parents are working and don’t spend enough time with their kids, or are not involved enough in their lives. In that case, you don’t have anyone who tells the kid “Hey, this is not the right choice, this is not the right action.” Many times there is no one to set those boundaries. In that unbalanced world, social status, ego and hormones are much more crucial in the decision making process and it shouldn’t be that way.

On the Set of 'Guides'

On the Set of ‘Guides’

A central theme of ‘Guides’ is the dangers and repercussions of immediate technologies (ie. cell phone cameras), what is it about this concept that made you want to feature it as such a prominent aspect of the ‘Guides’ narrative’?
I don’t know if it was a central theme, but it was definitely there when I started working with the actors. This is something that wasn’t there when I was in high school (why do I sound so old right now?) but you can’t ignore its effect right now on the youth. For Eliran (the actor who filmed the rape), what happened in front of him was nothing more than a cool video he could share online and gain some followers and attention. It was something he can later show the guys. I feel like we see videos of violence and sex so much these days, everywhere, that we become numb to them. You need something stronger / faster / harder to stimulate your senses, and in the same time, it’s like our fetish is for the medium, not for the actual content.

Did you film ‘Guides’ on location in Israel? If so, what was the most difficult part of getting this film completed there? In your impressions, what is the general filmmaking environment of Israel like?
This was shot in Israel, in a little village called “Benei Atarot”, 15 minutes away from Tel Aviv. I’m originally from there, so it was, production wise, easy. Most of my friends helped me during the production so it was great. They would show up at night and take the actors back home. My challenges were many, but the location wasn’t one of them. One funny anecdote though – we re-shot a scene a few weeks after we finished the production, and an hour later a huge crane arrived and picked the caravan where the counselors partied at night, and moved it a few blocks away… we were really lucky with that!

The general filmmaking environment in Israel is blooming right now. There are A LOT of film schools (I studied in “Minshar for Arts” in Tel Aviv). In the modern era of digital filmmaking it’s really easy and cheap to make movies so more people do that and you can see that in the last year there was a record number of 39 features that were made and considered in the Israeli academy for the best picture award (Ofir award). Another great detail about that – 12 out of the 39 were done by female filmmakers (including my dear teacher Keren Yedaya whose movie will be showing in Cannes this year). I dare you to show me that ratio anywhere else in the world.

Director Dani Tenenbaum On the Set of 'Guides

Director Dani Tenenbaum On the Set of ‘Guides

For a short film, ‘Guides’ features some very in-your-face realities of the modern adolescent experience, regardless of location. Can you speak to your own associations with such subject matter, in the sense of why did you feel it was important to depict in such a blatant way?
One of the filmmakers that influenced me the most is Larry Clark. Clark’s style in most of his movies is natural, realistic and true. He doesn’t care about whether the audience will like this or not. He tells the truth, so you better listen or get out of the room. This is what I wanted to do, and this is why it was important to be blatant.

After I showed the movie for the first time to a theater full of parents, they were shocked. I got a lot of comments, good and bad. I told them: this is how your kid looks like when you are not there. If you think it’s not your kids, how sure are you? Where is he right now? Where was he earlier today?

Obviously, that’s not how EVERY teenager looks like, but the point is clear: the parents have no idea what their kids are doing when they are not there, and they are often not there.

What was your technique in working with your actors through the script? How was the environment on set during the particularly tough sequences? How did you initially approach your actors with this subject matter?
I’m an enthusiastic believer in improvisation. I worked with the actors (they were ALL non-actors) for 4 month prior to the filming, I gave them some scenes, actions and motivations and see what they bring to the situation. Then I would talk to them about what happened, get their input, say what I liked and what I didn’t (this was very straight forward, no sweet talking in my movies!), and we would go for another run. Then I would go home and write more scenes or delete ones that I didn’t like. The actors were a huge part of creating and finalizing the script. It was important that everyone would find that rebel, boundary testing teenager inside of him and connect with that feeling of youth to bring to the set.

Filming the rape scene was pretty hard. It was just the actors, myself, and the DP Jonathan Hepner. I talked to the actors together and separate many times about this scene, we did it very technical – this was the only scene that wasn’t an improv. We knew what action would happen in every single moment, and we broke it down so it wouldn’t be too long. It was tough but I think we made it without too much trauma for the actors.

What was your initial approach to the film’s cinematography? How did this approach differ/remain the same throughout the actual execution?
Jonathan and I wanted the camera to be another person in that group. We liked the rough, dirty approach and thought it would serve the movie and be true to its concept. The idea was to feel what they feel and get into their head. That’s also the reason why there is not music in the movie. Music can bring you that escapism feeling that we didn’t want to deliver to our audience.

In the rape scene, we used a lens-baby and tried to capture a different state of mind, something blurrier. I’m glad that we had the courage to experiment with it, but looking back at it, I wouldn’t shoot it the same way.

posterWhat is next for ‘Guides? What is next for you?
I’m currently working on 2 projects: A feature film about the Jewish Chasidic community in Brooklyn, and we just raised more than $50K on kickstarter.

We are shooting this fall, and I’m super excited about it. This will be my first feature and we’re working on it constantly.

The other project is turning Guides into a movie. I’m working on it with Jonathan Hepner (that DP’d the short), and we hope to film it next summer in Israel. Follow us to get more info about it.

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