Filmmaker Amos Gitai (born in 1950) served in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 as a reserve soldier, at which time his helicopter was shot down. In 1977 he began directing documentary films for Israel Television. After his film House was censored by the television authorities, and when his subsequent film Field Diary met with much criticism in Israel, Gitai moved abroad. He trained as an architect at the University of California at Berkeley (Ph.D., 1986) and lived in Paris for many years. He returned to live in Israel in 1993. Gitai's films deal with themes of exile, emigration, and political issues relevant to the current reality in Israel.
In addition, his films explore the boundaries of a critical view from within. His film Berlin-Jerusalem is a shattering view of the Zionist dream, and Kippur is a graphic antiwar film (based on some of his own experiences during the Yom Kippur War). His trilogy Devarim, Day after Day and Kadosh takes place in Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem and explores, with a critical eye, societal issues in each of those cities.
A prolific and controversial filmmaker, Gitai is one of the Israeli directors who have received accolades worldwide including prizes at Cannes, the distinction of Cavalier of the Arts from the Minister of Culture of France (1999) and retrospectives of his work have been organized in Europe and at the MOMA in New York City. In Israel, however, his films are criticized for being disjointed, non-linear and critical of Israel. Many say this is due to the jealousy of his colleagues due to his critical success on the international level and the resentment of the critics to his having lived and worked abroad. In Israel, he was the recipient of an achievement award from the Jerusalem Film Festival (2002).
A recent documentary film entitled Gitai – In Search of his Carmel by Ran Tal (2009), was shot while Gitai was researching locations and preparing for his recent feature film, Carmel (which premiered in 2009). This documentary is compelling in that it provides the viewer with insight into Gitai's unique way of creating a film -- his artistic process which is always dynamic and the script which is always developing.
We meet Gitai face-to-face and he talks about his films – 25 documentaries and 16 feature films. He discusses the earlier films that have an emphasis on theme and the later films, such as Free Zone, that experiment with the traditional definitions of narrative and form. Gitai talks about people on the move all around the world, and the fact that his parents were immigrants and how the subject of emigration and immigration fascinates him. We watch as he is creating a scene of his mother, reading from her letters to him from London when he was 10 years-old, talking about how she does not feel at home in any of the places that she has lived – not Vienna, Berlin, London or Paris. This theme of people on the move is a theme that can be seen not only in Israeli films but also in American and European films of recent years.
Gitai – In Search of his Carmel is part of a series of documentary films about "Culture Heroes" and is available from Ruth Diskin Films.
For those interested in reading more about Amos Gitai, a new book has become available -- Amos Gitai: Exile and Atonement by Ray Privett, which can be downloaded free from the website of Cinema Purgatorio.