Screen - February 9, 2003
Dan Fainaru

Behind The Megaphone

In some respect, Panorama director Wieland Speck owed Eytan Fox a slot in his programme. "Wieland has been a friend for a long time," the Israeli director explains. "Several years ago, I felt it was time for me to grow up professionally and go to America. I wrote to Weiland but to my surprise, he wrote back saying it would be a terrible mistake: 'You are Israeli, your subjects and your characters are Israeli, this is the material you should explore in your films.' Nevertheless, I went, found work, and was already preparing for a TV series when I realised Wieland was right all along."

Two years on and Fox's first film since returning to Israel, Yossi & Jagger, is screening in Speck's Panorama section. Indeed, Yossi & Jagger is a peculiarly Israeli film - a tragic love story about two gay men on active duty in the Israeli army at the Lebanese border.

Fox, born in New York and raised in Israel, is one of the most successful film and television directors working in the country today. His debut film, 1990's Time Off, was about sexual identity in the army, a theme that has emerged again in Yossi & Jagger. His second feature, Song Of The Siren, a biting, sarcastic romance, was set against the backdrop of the Gulf War. It was a hit at home.

His next project, a TV series entitle Florentene (the name of a trendy neighbourhood in Tel-Aviv) looked at young Israelis and their reaction to the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, observing the changing moods of the country following that ominous event. Much talked about, highly acclaimed and very popular; it was after this series that Fox thought the US was the next step for him.

Back in Israel, he believes his decision was right. Indeed, film-wise, there is a lot of energy in the air. "There is a lot of talent around," explains Fox, whose next film is a psychological thriller called Walking On Water about a Mossad agent working in Germany. "All the film schools that have opened have thought people how to tell those stories that are so abundant in Israel, stories that should and have to be told.

"All my films are political in the way they discuss how the politics in this country and this part of the world affects the lives of my characters, and defines them to a great extent.

"If Yossi and Jagger had lived somewhere else," he continues, "if they did not have to be in uniform, their relationship would have looked quite different. Their sexual identity in the Berlin Mitte would not have raised the same problems."