Dan Wolman is one of my favorite Israeli artistic filmmakers. His films portray human characters, a deep level of emotion and sensitivity, combined with a particularly Israeli sense of aesthetics. Last week, a celebration was held in his honor at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, marking 40 years since the beginning of his work in the field of film. Forty years is a long time and during those years, Wolman has made 15 feature films, and more projects are in the works!
Wolman studied filmmaking in New York City in the 1960s. He told the audience honestly that there were things in Hollywood filmmaking at that time that might have silenced him as a filmmaker. But there were other things going on that empowered and inspired him – such as art films that went against the Hollywood style, real time documentaries and self-exposure or personal filmmaking.
Wolman's filmmaking was part of the new wave of artistic Young Israeli Cinema (acronym: Kayitz) that was taking place in the late 1960's and 70's in Israel. Quite different from the melodramas, heroic thrillers, teen sex films, light entertainment films and bourekas or ethnic comedies which made up Israeli cinema at the time, the style of the Kayitz directors viewed people as complex human beings (rather than superhuman heroes or ethnic stereotypes), and emphasized thoughtful dialogue, introspection and the examination of socio-psychological problems.
Wolman's first two films – The Dreamer (1970), Israel's official entry to the 1970 Cannes Film Festival, and Floch (1972), which represented Israel at the Venice Film Festival – are both low-budget portrayals of the problems and hardships of old age. The Dreamer takes place in old Tsfat which is a metaphor for the beauty, nostalgia and depth of old age. Floch, scripted by both Wolman and Hanoch Levin, was meant to be a universal and humanistic look at aging. Wolman told the audience at the Cinematheque last week that Amos Oz had seen Floch and when he approached him for permission to adapt his celebrated novel, My Michael, into a film, he agreed to give him full support. The resulting film, My Michael (1975), and his following film, Hide and Seek (1980) are stories of tensions and divisions in the city of Jerusalem.
In more recent years, Wolman's films have become a triumph of complex, personal filmmaking. He has not gone so far afield, however, from his earlier films and he continues to combine the personal with the national. The Distance (1994) deals with themes of family separation and the responsibility of a son to both his homeland and his aging parents. Foreign Sister (2000) draws attention to the issues and problems of foreign workers in Israel and especially highlights the relationship between two women – one a middle-class Jewish woman and the other an Ethiopian Christian. Wolman says that this film is clearly connected to the part of his life that he spent in Ethiopia with his parents as a child. Tied Hands (2006), a film of great intensity, starring Gila Almagor and Ido Tadmor, tells of a desperate attempt by a 70-year-old mother to communicate with and help her mature son, in his dying moments. On stage at the premiere screening at the 2006 Jerusalem Film Festival, Wolman dedicated the film to the mother of the filmmaker Amos Guttman (who was struck down by AIDS well before his time), who said, “parents should love their children as they are.”
The films of Dan Wolman are studies of people and relationships against a background of complex issues. He combines subtle, poetic and haunting personal stories with the larger issues of the surrounding community – and in this he has succeeded in bringing attention to major issues such as relationships with Arabs, social and legal problems of foreign workers, meaning of life and problems of the elderly, homosexuality and the tragedy of AIDS, and more.
Wishing Dan Wolman many more productive years of filmmaking!!