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Eve Shpak Sheds Some ‘Light’ on Her Documentary ‘Light to All Nations’

[IMG:L]In her mission statement, budding documentary filmmaker Eve Shpak says this about her new film: “Light to All Nations is a documentary film that aims to serve as a blueprint for the western world on how to cope with the fear and trauma in the face of the guerilla warfare we have only recently encountered. This is a psychological discovery of how people living in Israel have built up various types of coping skills over time and how lifestyle adapts to serve as a way of dealing with fear and tragedy. We will be interviewing a multi-ethnic group of people who, in spite of being touched by disaster in some way, went on to deliver great products to the world in various fields. The after stories of recovery are never told, so we are trying to discover how each one of these people got from A to B and it is this middle part that we wish to understand…We aim to discover the positive transformation and its motivator between the trauma experienced and the recovery and achievement made.”

Hollywood.com had a chance to speak with Shpak, a former entertainment photographer, while on location in Tel Aviv. She further details her work on Light to All Nations, a film she hopes to get into the festival circuit in 2008.

Hollywood.com: I read your mission statement about what you’d like to do with the documentary, and it sounds very powerful.
Eve Shpak
: We hope so and we hope to have a positive effect, not a negative one, which seems to be the effect of most of the films made about the Middle East–you feel bad and it’s all very heavy. We’re trying to deliver something that’s a little more positive.

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HW: Tell me a bit about the film.
ES:
The film is called Light to all Nations and pretty much the idea of the film was that in all this darkness that we see on the television constantly and in the forefront of the media in Israel is that there must be something to learn in all that’s going on. No one really covers what happens with the people after they’ve gone through all of the events that the media covers. I mean, how do people recover? The Israelis have been dealing with these events for over 60 years and most people here came from other places where they already went through some pretty traumatic experiences. Then they come here and they go through more. So on the whole I think the level of coping skills on a daily basis probably becomes part of the culture, dealing with these things. The Western world really doesn’t know how to cope with these things. 9/11 was incredibly traumatic for the U.S. It, of course, brought us together in some ways, but we still don’t know how to deal with that. So I thought that if nothing else, what can we learn from all the disaster?

HW: What brought you to this? Did you have an epiphany and decide that you needed to make a film?
ES:
Well, I think it’s just coming from a few different places. [Talking to someone else] I’m sorry. I’m just carrying water and in some places here you can’t bring things through the door because they check everything that you bring. That’s a really big part of the film, the security issue. We’ve just arrived at a place and you can’t just take anything that you want inside of these places.

HW: So it’s similar to the kind of security checks we have to go through in U.S. airports?
ES:
Yeah, kind of, but it’s everywhere. When you go into the mall, they check you. What they actually check for is, say if you’re wearing a purse, they check the weight of the bag. And they can tell just by the weight whether you have something explosive in your bag. These guys, this is their job, and they know if some bomber comes up that they’re dead. They know that they’re giving their lives to this because really they’re just like a wall to stop anyone from going into a mall and blowing themselves up. So, what brought me to this? Well, first of all I was in the film industry for like seven or eight years and the last leg of that was in the entertainment press. As well, I shot some documentaries. One of the ones I shot was in Croatia about three and a half years ago and it was about the endangered dolphins in the Northern Adriatic. That was cool and I came from that documentary, from Croatia, to Israel to go to my cousin’s wedding. I happened to have all of my equipment with me because I came directly, and while I was there for the wedding, I was just hanging out with people and I heard just some amazing stories. They were varying stories that kind of touched me. One of story came from this woman who was probably in her 50s at this point. When she was 18, she lost her boyfriend, her soul-mate. She lost him in the army but as she was telling the story, she was laughing and telling us jokes. She was so happy and it donned on me that there was a perspective here that we certainly don’t have in the U.S. and maybe not even in other places. Tomorrow morning we’re going to interview a man who lost his son in a special unit that he actually created. He was the one who created the unit in the army and then it’s what killed his own son. It’s a pretty powerful story, and yet this man has an incredible perspective and he’s had a portion of the security in his town. So the more that I listened to people’s stories the more I thought, “OK, I have to start shooting and just see what it is that I want to talk about.” I shot like 20 hours of research footage and I extended my stay two more weeks. My sister helped me and one of my cousins who’s actually now on this film with us again. I took the footage home and I actually wrote the synopsis like a 150 times. I then pitched the film to try and raise money, but I got the weirdest responses to raising money for this film. People wanted to know why I wasn’t making a Jewish film. “How could I dare shoot a film in Israel and have it not be a Jewish film?”

[IMG:R]HW: Really? Did you try to get financing from the big guys or did you aim in the middle?
ES:
I didn’t really have a ton of connections to money. I wrote a rough budget and said, “Hey, maybe you can help me finish this.” I pitched it to a few production companies who entertained it for a second and then ignored me. I pitched to some people who fund small newspapers with a lot of money, but they basically told me I had to make THEIR film. I spent three and a half years hearing “I’m going to fund this film. I’m going to fund this film. Give me another four months, five months.” I felt like by the time I got this film out the whole world would’ve changed and my original inspiration will have changed and I wouldn’t have made the film I originally wanted to make if I waited another five years for the funding. The other thing is that I have other really great projects that I want to make and this is the smallest one that I could do myself and still keep it really powerful. I’m not famous. They’re not going to let me direct other films on big budgets. Why would they trust me? I totally get that, too. It’s their investment and so I said, “You know what, forget it.” I ended up funding it myself. It’s like sending yourself to get your masters degree. You just have to go and pay for it.

HW: Your story isn’t an unique one because a lot of great filmmakers come out of that struggle with their first films. Did you ever think about writing Michael Moore and asking for help?
ES:
I met Michael Moore. I was actually in Toronto at the opening for Bowling for Columbine and some of my friends helped produce that film. I don’t think that Michael Moore and I have exactly the same feeling on certain things. I think it’s really interesting what he’s done for documentaries, and I commend him for paving the way for documentaries. But I don’t think my film is political. I want to talk about the human aspect and although, obviously, his films are about humans, I don’t have any interest at this moment in attacking any government or the health system. I think this film will actually reveal that there is no science to health and that for everyone, it’s a different experience. People ask me who the audience is for this film and my answer is always who isn’t the audience for this film? It’s a documentary. Why can’t anyone learn something from this film? We are going to try and make it hip and cool, and we want the music to be great because film is about comedy and it’s about music healing and art healing and all kinds of things. We have Olympians that want to talk about healing and sports healing them and all kinds of things. That’s what I hope to make, but at the same time there’s not anyone that the film isn’t for. It’s a film that’s supposed to be positive and it’s supposed to say, “Hey, what can we learn from all of this?” And I think that people are going to have a slightly different perspective on what Israel looks like and the things that are going on here after watching this film.

HW: Are you excited to bring a new perspective to Israel?
ES:
It’s pretty cool, yeah. I mean, there are so many things I could tell you that I’ve learned. Their perspective on Americans is definitely interesting from person to person, but one thing that’s really cool here is that everything is accessible. Everyone knows somebody that can get you to the person you need to see. It’s so small. There are six million people total. If you need something it’s just easy to find. It’s like a small neighborhood.

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HW: How difficult was it for you to be able to shoot in Tel Aviv?
ES:
You can film on any street really–unless, I mean, you’re setting up a big movie set. I’m sure that they have a film commission who deals with that, but we’re shooting a documentary and you can walk down the street with a camera. It’s not like Los Angeles. It’s pretty easy to film here, except on Shabbat. Anyway, we dug up a lot of stories before we came. There’s a really tight knit community here and everyone just kept saying, “Yes, yes. You can film us when you get here. Call us when you get here.” I wanted to schedule every single day and have it all lined up, but it didn’t work out that way. We got here and everyone was like, “OK, tomorrow come on over.” Some people will say, “Let me ask this person if I can get you an interview with them.” They’ll go see them and then say, “Can you come right now?” It’s not like I’m totally unprepared, but I haven’t sat down and had time to write my questions, so I have to do everything on the fly. Tel Aviv is like London mixed with New York mixed with Paris. It’s open all night long and there’s music everywhere. There’s people having coffee in the cafes everywhere. It’s so lively. I can’t believe that it’s the same place that you saw on CNN.

[IMG:L]HW: Are you going to be going into more dangerous areas?
ES:
There’s someone who volunteers there to help people who’d like to give us a great interview, but we need to look at the situation because at any point in time the sirens go off. A lot of people are getting bombed haphazardly by accident. They’re trying to control their aim towards the other side of the wall, but there are accidents. There are accidents on both sides. So I don’t know that we’ll go in, but we will be talking to someone who volunteers there. We’ll also be talking to a lot of kids who’ve had a lot of traumatic experiences and talk with a clown, who actually helps them do breathing exercises by making them laugh by using balloons and preparing them for the surgeries and things that they have to go through.

HW: Where are you in the process now? Have you almost finished shooting or do you have a lot more to do? What’s your next step?
ES:
We’re supposed to be here until Sept. 30. It’s possible that I might stay up to one month longer because we have so many interviews and it’s hard to get everyone in the schedule. We shoot everyday whether we shoot massive B-roll or if we shoot two interviews a day traveling from on to the other. I may have to stay longer, but our goal is to cut by the middle of March and hopefully have this film in the can.

HW: So is the Cannes Film Festival your target date then?
ES:
We hope so, yeah. Ultimately, the goal is to make a good film regardless of when the film’s actual deadline is. If it’s not finished, it’s not finished. I want to make a great film and I want to make a film that leaves you saying, “Wow, those people are really amazing. That’s really cool what they did. Maybe I should reconsider what I complain about in my life.” Honestly, we had a rough landing and it’s nothing compared to the people were shooting.

HW: Well, I’d love to talk to you in a year as a follow up to what you’re doing now and see how the film has been received.
ES:
Oh, yeah, because I have a lot to learn still, which is cool. My audience will go through the exploration with me because no one is an expert on this. We’re actually talking about having a possible pre-screening for press people before we send it out so that you guys can give some feedback and we’d be happy to do a follow up interview any time you want.

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