Room to Forget: Interview with Amnon Ronby Joy Bernard | 07.02.17
This week’s Telavivian Cinema pick is Room to Forget, a film written and directed by Amnon Ron, a Tel Avivian filmmaker and the founder of the Yafo Creative.
Room to Forget tells the story of Alex, a frustrated playwright who returns to the commune he has left in order to reconcile with the woman he loved who had stayed behind. Gena attempts to resist Alex’s advances and keeps him away from the room they once shared.
Will the pair be able to bridge the unsolved and irreparable history that stands between them?
Telavivian Cinema’s curator Joy Bernard had a chat with filmmaker Amnon Ron (who is also the founder of the Yafo Creative, one of Telavivian’s favorite arty spots in the city) who gave her a peek into the creative process that went into creating the unique love story that unfolds at an eco community in the U`K of all places.
So hey there Amnon! Thanks a lot for agreeing to feature Room to Forget here on Telavivian Cinema. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
Amnon: “I’m a filmmaker and the founder of Yafo Creative, a guest house and creative content center in Jaffa. I studied film in The Arts University in Bournemouth, UK, and graduated in 2011, which is when I made Room to Forget. Since then, I haven’t been making fiction films, but some commercial and music video work. In the past few months I started working on a new fiction film project. It’s in development now, so hopefully I’ll have something to show in a couple of years.
I made Room to Forget as my graduation film. I was 21 when shooting it, so it’s a bit strange to talk about it now.”
I can imagine. But its quality is, in a sense, very timeless. Which leads me to my next question actually—seeing as you’re an Israeli filmmaker, it’s interesting that you chose to create a film in English. Was it only because you created it as part of your studies abroad or did you feel that it was just right to make this film in English? What was the story you wanted to tell through it?
Amnon: “After three years of living in Bournemouth, I was already thinking in English so it was very natural to me. But while I was living there at the time, I was actually thinking about my hometown Jerusalem. Shooting in a commune helped me distance myself from the story and allow the locations and the actors to bring their own stories into the film. The commune reminded me of Jerusalem in the sense that it feels small, intense and very intimate. A place to come home to.”
That’s interesting, the home away from home kind of sentiment that you’re relating to. And what was the story you wanted to tell through it?
Amnon: “The story I had in mind was mostly of an emotion I was feeling and wanted to convey, of deep longing and an impossible solution. Some of the scenes are influenced directly by experiences that I had, but I had an open mind about where they would go.
I had an important realization during my studies, that when I try to force an idea on an actor or a crew member, their understanding of it could be very limited and lead to average results. But when I allowed them to express themselves, and realize I’m only a navigator of their expression, I got much more lively performances that enriched my world.
After casting the actors I started asking them some questions about their characters – some substantial, and some random. Some directly influenced from their own lives, some made up. That helped create a world in which I could work. For example, Melia Kreiling, who plays Gena, wrote me a list of things Gena likes and hates. There she wrote that she despises courgettes (zucchini). I took this piece of information and in rehearsal created a backstory scene, through improvisation, in which Alex (Thomas Snowdon) puts courgettes in Gena’s dish without her knowing, and she loves it.
This backstory that was lived by the actors, later came into the film too. The courgette became a symbol for Alex’s absence. She grows courgettes, and eats them all the time now. In the party scene she breaks down, blaming him for leaving her alone with the courgettes .
The process of the creation of the script was very unusual. I had about 10 sessions with the actors in which they rehearsed a backstory, and then the scenes would be shot, transcribed and edited into a script.
An interesting thing that happened is, that an actor that was meant to play a third character, got a big job abroad and had to fly out of the country, two weeks before shooting. Which left me with a decision—to cast a new actor, or lose the character. Once I chose to lose the character I had to completely revised the script, and that actually made it tighter and more focused.”
In your film one of the two main protagonists, Gena, is a young woman working and living at some sort of an eco community. Her life is disrupted when Alex, a former member of the community and a former paramour of hers, comes for a surprise visit. At first she’s not persuaded by his apologies and doesn’t let him back into her heart, then seems to give in, only to change her mind again.
It made me think about how we cope with relationships (not necessarily romantic ones) that end in our lives: we file them in some back drawer of our minds but they remain, to a certain extent, an inseparable part of our existence. When we are then forced to confront in present day with the people we have frozen in our minds over time, it creates a certain mental dissonance. What’s the dissonance Gena is going through?
What’s the dissonance you were trying to depict through this story?
Amnon: “That’s a really nice question. The way I see it, Gena kind of stayed in the commune in order to latch onto a sentiment. She became so in love with the idea of the place and the stories it held, that she became a radical ideologist that is sometimes detached from reality.
When Alex comes back, she has to confront the image she created of him, and see him in the moment. His being there annoys her. The surprise visit is overwhelming and not called for. However, there’s only so much time she can be around him without giving in to him. In an attempt to go back to how things were, they get into bed. She then gets anxious, and cannot do it. At this point her ideals about the place and about herself are shattered, and she realizes she needs to get away.”
The whole issue of getting back together with an ex is usually considered a false pass. I think you portrayed that problem well, that moment when you’re tempted to return to the familiar and easy intimacy you’ve created with someone, sometimes simply because it’s so rare and difficult to forge that kind of bond, to create that inner language anew in each relationship. Did you know from the start that you weren’t going to give your two protagonists a chance at happiness together?
Amnon: “I think in this particular case, they didn’t have much of a chance. Mostly because of their character and the anxiety already surrounding their relationship. I don’t know if I should say that as a rule, but I think it’s usually messier this way. You think you know the person, but you only know an idea of them, that gets more distorted if you’re emotionally involved and distant.”
Sad but true. And now to my last question—what are you working on today? What’s in your plans?
Amnon: “Right now I’m developing two projects. One is a fiction feature film, that similarly to Room to Forget is conceived through collaboration with the actors. This time I’m going in an even more radical direction—I’m trying to understand the actor’s story and find my connection to it, rather than start from my own personal experience.
The second project is a workshop program that I’m developing together with Nayef Hammoud, where actors will be playing a single character throughout a 6 month process. We hope to develop more projects from the stories that will rise from the workshop.”
Wow, sounds very promising. Thank you Amnon!
Watch Room to Forget on Telavivian Cinema.
Telavivian Cinema is a project which will unveil work of cinematic art crafted by local directors.
From animation to drama to comedy, Telavivian short films will be streamed weekly and accompanied by our conversations with the their talented makers. Make sure you stay tuned for the screenings, as the films featured in the magazine will change on a weekly basis.
Telavivian Cinema is curated by Joy Bernard.