Film Interview: Dror Moreh – The Gatekeepers (Sony Pictures Classics)

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Dror Moreh, director of The Gatekeepers

Dror Moreh, director of The Gatekeepers

by David Ashley

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The Gatekeepers director Dror Moreh (photo courtesy of the NY Times)

The Gatekeepers director Dror Moreh (photo courtesy of the NY Times)

Rock ‘n Roll Ghost’s David Ashley: I’ve seen a handful of Israeli films in the past few years: Footnote, Policeman, an independent film called Off White Lies.  I also went online last night and I watched part of an interview you did with Scott Feinberg of the Hollywood Reporter.

Dror Moreh: (chuckles) He’s a friend of mine.

He talked a lot about where you were coming from and the state of cinema in Israel.  He said there are more film schools there than anywhere else in the world.

Dror Moreh: There is a lot of film schools there.

A “fertile” area.

Dror Moreh: Yeah!  We have a lot of issues, too.

You said that Errol Morris’s The Fog of War was a major source of inspiration.  Was it to an extent that you would not have made this film if you hadn’t seen it?

Dror Moreh: (looking at his phone) … I don’t know.  Umm… I think that what [The Fog of War] showed me is how strong it is when you are speaking with people of power.  The people who get the testimonies of those in power, who orchestrated war, who are in the rooms where people decide who will live and who will die and how much.  It gave me the tenacity or the understanding that it would be amazing to do a movie and speak with the people who were in those rooms.  I cannot tell you now, afterwards, if I would’ve done this movie… but it definitely had a big influence, was a source of inspiration.

Is it true that this film took you three years to make?

Dror Moreh: (still looking at phone) Yeah.

Just one thing I was curious about… there were no Executive Producers listed on the film.  It was just you, Estelle Fialon and Philippa Kowarsky.  Was it only the three of you producing the film?

Dror Moreh: Yeah.

Seems like a very, very large task for three people.

Dror Moreh: (laughs) Look, for me it was very important to maintain- to be the lead producer, because when you are also producer… There is a cake, the cake of the budget.  And you have to cut it.  In the end, I wanted to decide where the money would go, editing time, or what have you.  You need a lot of people to create a movie, especially a documentary, and they were amazing producers, both of them, two women – which I salute!  They really were imperative from the start.

Was one of the reasons it took three years because it was difficult to secure funding?  I also noticed the funding came from numerous sources.

Dror Moreh: No, no, the reason why it took so long was basically because it of the editing, the amount of testimonies.  The amount of good material I had in that film, and also the creating of the visual aspects, it was a very long process.

All that CGI.

Dror Moreh: It’s a long, time consuming process.  But most of that time went into the editing process, the editing was the most difficult and time consuming.  And as it went on we got more and more money, so it was a parallel kind of movement.

Usually I’m annoyed when I see too much graphic design or CGI in films, but I actually thought it was pretty well used, the way you re-created entire scenes in three dimensions from still photographs.  Sounds fun.

Dror Moreh: A lot of fun!  It wasn’t easy.  I knew the problem, in the beginning, was that I need to create a language…ground which nobody walked before.  It was important for me that the audience would understand that this is a movie where all of the images were based on real images (oh my fucking god).  Not something that I resented…but I wanted to create, also, the cinematic point of view that would help me do that.  That would help me generate those images and create this cinematic voyage, but using new techniques which were not available to documentary filmmakers.  Normally we are struggling with a very, very low budget and…we are not easy.

If it makes you feel any better, I walked out of the film thinking it was extremely well-produced – maybe too well produced.  

Dror Moreh: Heh…

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So you just sat down with each of these men and had very, very long conversations with them?  You didn’t call them back in?

Dror Moreh: No, it was quite a few times that I interviewed them.  I interviewed them not once, but two, three times.  I believe in very long interviews.  I don’t believe in one hour, get to the point… three, four, five hours, maybe six, seven, ten hour interviews.  And in the course of that interview something happens, something changes, people discover themselves.  Very interesting, fascinating process.

So did you get the sense that these men were unburdening themselves to you, for the first time?

Dror Moreh: What do you mean by “unburden?”

They have to keep these things very private for a very long time, so, to finally speak about it, to get it off their chests…

Dror Moreh: Yeah, in a way it was something like…I don’t want to call it a confession booth, but they were happy to speak.

Have they literally never spoken to anybody else about this stuff?

Dror Moreh: About their work?  No.

Not journalists?

Dror Moreh: They’ve talked here and there, but never so extensively, inside the work, what they did.  It’s a long process, when you’re doing interviews.  Especially with people like that.  They have to convince other people to betray their country, their family, their home.

I would imagine that they’re very good at keeping their secrets.  

Dror Moreh: They know how to speak.

Yes, they know what they are not prepared to say to you.  

Dror Moreh: Look – basically, what most of them didn’t want to speak about were more along the sides of the operations.  They can’t jeopardize people who are working on the ground now.  In order to get intelligence there are some things which are not open to the public eye, which are not supposed to be open to the public eye.  Although you want very hard to know, you have to stop here.

Were there any confessions in there which were very damning, or which you didn’t put into the movie?

Dror Moreh: A lot!

I guess there would have to be…

Dror Moreh: A lot.  At the end of the day, the movie is the most important thing.  How do you want to shape it, and where is it leading to?  What is the end you want?  That was the most important thing.

You get the sense that everybody is extremely wary, even pessimistic, about the future.  Some people are outright pessimistic.  Israel is compared to a “brutal occupational force” in the territories.  It’s compared to that, but you would say things are that serious?

Dror Moreh: I am totally, utterly, 100% behind every word that is said.  Completely.  I think that they are…for someone who can see, with open eyes, the cost of this conflict on the Israeli society, not even on the Palestinian society.  They are saying what they’re saying…

Are you talking about the soldiers?

Dror Moreh: No…

Just the citizens?

Dror Moreh: No – it’s what they said in the movie.  “The cost of the fight against the Palestinians, in terms of the Jewish society, getting into the army, the people who are fighting…”

Do you think anything will be changing, along those lines, in the foreseeable future?

Dror Moreh: No.  I think that in order to change something you need amazing leadership, and I don’t see that.  I don’t see…even close to that.  You need outstanding leadership in order to change.  I don’t see the will, the capacity, the persona.  Because of the administration you cannot create change, to put them back on track.

isMcEbSc7nwEab19ybRfai9pxSIDo you have any plans to show this film to anybody in government?

Dror Moreh: Well, people saw it.  It went out into the cinemas 2½ weeks ago and I heard that some prominent politicians have seen it.

I have to ask: nominated for the Academy Award.  You must be thrilled.

Dror Moreh: Yeah.  Definitely.  Of course.

I was curious, did you see the Palestinian film that was nominated, 5 Broken Cameras?

Dror Moreh: No, no, I didn’t see that.

I thought it was good.

Dror Moreh: Of course!  I think to be nominated you have to be good.  Otherwise it would be boring.  The difference, I think, between any other movie that has been done in the country, and I’m not saying this is the reason, but I think that the reason The Gatekeepers is, is that the people who are speaking are the people who are maintaining the conflict, and it comes from their voices, and that carries with it, I think, impact, and we should listen to them.  Because it comes from the center of the political establishment.  It doesn’t come from Palestinians in the country.  it comes from the people who are there to maintain the conflict.  To do everything to suppress it.

You get the impression that the system is the problem – all the people are against it, nobody seems to be able to stop the tide of the system itself.

Dror Moreh: I think that it’s not the system, I think it’s the leaders.

You think that it’s just been a succession of leaders making poor decisions?  You’re talking about the PMs?

Dror Moreh: Yeah.  Absolutely.  Michael Rabin.  Maybe Sharon, as well, because he had to vote to face a difficult situation, the second intifada.  Besides them, everybody has short foresight.  “Just tactics, no strategy.”

The exact quote from my press notes is “”From my discussions with the PM’s innermost circle of advisers,I learned how the critique of some of these Gatekeepers influenced Sharon’s decision to disengage from Gaza.”  And that’s pretty much what got you started down this road.

Dror Moreh: Yeah.  One of the reasons is because, I said to myself, their critique, hobbiel led to such – one of the reasons the PM of Israel saw and said “I have to consider” because it came from the center of the establishment.

Are you familiar with Wikipedia?

Dror Moreh: Yeah.

Kind of silly, but last night I looked up the Unilateral Disengagement Plan, and Sharon had said he was inspired by his son.  Said that his son even suggested it which I thought was really strange.

Dror Moreh: Nobody could force Sharon to do what he didn’t want to do.  Maybe the idea came from his son, I don’t know.  I know that he did that because he thought when he did that, it would create a positive response towards Israel.  That it will definitely deter the agenda.  Israel will never stay in Gaza, no matter what.

Regarding film in Israel… who do you think are the most exciting or dynamic current Israeli filmmakers, people you’re interested, or I should be looking out for?  Anybody you went to school with?

Dror Moreh: There’s a lot of people, but I don’t know about future projects.  Hagai Levi and the guy who made Waltz With Bashir.

I’m a large fan of our In Treatment, I haven’t seen Levi’s, but I was aware.

Dror Moreh: Yes Levi is our In Treatment.  Definitely a renaissance.  When you think about the Academy Awards, the last five years four films.  Not one, but four were Israeli…

Gatekeepers, Footnote

Dror Moreh: No no no!!  Leave Gatekeepers.

Beaufort, Ajami, Waltz With Bashir

Dror Moreh: Four.  Out of the contenders for the Oscar.  Besides The Gatekeepers and 5 Broken Cameras, it’s amazing.

Do you think there’s a New Wave coming?  There’s an Iranian New Wave.

Dror Moreh: I don’t know, that’s a big word.  There’s definitely very good filmmakers in Israel who are doing very good movies, and the Academy proves that.

Indeed.

Official The Gatekeepers Website

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