Incitement director/co-writer Yaron Zilberman and actor Yehuda Nahari Halevi sat down with Solzy at the Movies one day after the world premiere in Toronto.
Not more than five minutes after the world premiere last month, the entire theater had to be evacuated. This was due to a security concern. The fact that the film originates in Israel means you have to take every security precaution when someone gets suspicious. It took about another hour to get everything situated, reload the theater, and start the film again. All in all, it made for a rather late evening.
My interview with the duo took place the day after the premiere. While we discussed the Israeli elections, they were still upcoming when the interview took place in early September. In the meantime, Incitement took home the Israeli Ophir Award for Best Film and Best Casting. What this means is that the film is the official Israeli submission for the Oscars category of International Feature Film.
Congrats on last night’s premiere of Incitement. How honored were you to launch this film at TIFF?
Yaron Zilberman: Very much honored. I’m honored to present this movie at TIFF. It’s the second time that I’m presenting a movie at TIFF. The previous one was in 2012. It was a movie called A Late Quartet about string musicians and here we are about Rabin’s assassination, Incitement. Very honored.
Last night was a bit crazy.
Yaron Zilberman: A bit. Yeah.
What goes through your mind when you finally sit down and not even more than five minutes after the film starts, they have to evacuate the theater?
Yaron Zilberman: Yeah, it was quite crazy. I mean, because we’re Israelis, we’re accustomed to such occasions so we have a gut feeling of what’s serious and what’s not serious. In this case, I felt although security safety is number one and there was a reason to suspect—therefore its fine. The actions were correct. At the same time, I knew it’s nothing. Because there was this person, he came with three bags and he went out with two bags. There was some misunderstanding. And that’s what happened. But because there was the consulate and Dalia Rabin, there were a couple of sort of people that have security service keeping eyes on them. That’s why I think it became over-sensitive. Otherwise, it would have probably passed.
What does it mean to have PM Rabin’s daughter, Dalia, present in the audience?
Yaron Zilberman: For me, for us, as moving into gets to get her. It’s not an easy movie in the sense that the movie shows the assassination of her father, by—the story goes through the assassin. What does it mean for her to watch that? It’s very difficult and very tough. Getting her endorsement—seeing that she’s joining us here watching the movie and taking part of that is meaningful.
This is the first time that we’ve seen a re-telling of the events on screen in a narrative feature. When did you first get the idea and can you talk about the writing process?
Yaron Zilberman: The idea came about as long as 15 years ago. But then I spoke to a friend of mine, who is a historian, and he explained to me and convinced me that it might be too soon. You need more distance because some information just takes decades sometimes for information to become common knowledge or knowledge in general. So we thought we should wait. Then a producer a friend of mine from Israel approached me and said, “Let’s make a movie in Israel. Whatever you want to tell.” I said, “There’s one story that I like to tell in Israel and that’s Rabin’s assassination because it affected me deeply.” It affected the country deeply. It affected Jewish people all over the world deeply. So it was just like a story I have to tell. The more I learned, I realized the story is actually about now. The story is international completely because other countries face the same kind of issues of attacks on democracy, rise of nationalism, sometimes to the verge of fascism. There are also the issues that right now are important issues all over the world so the movie actually talks about that.
What led to the decision to weave in archival footage, rather than hire people, as actors to be Benjamin Netanyahu or Yitzhak Rabin?
Yaron Zilberman: Tthe only reason is this: part of making this movie is to set history right. So right now in Israel, there’s a huge proportion of the part of the population that is questioning whether Yigal Amir actually killed Rabin or it was some kind of a weird conspiracy. Conspiracy theories are all over the place so that’s one thing and then people ask questions like whether incitement actually happens. Every year on the anniversary of the assassination, a new debate rises–was there incitement, wasn’t incitement, who incited, questioned it? So I wanted to make a case for what I believe actually happened, which is what I learned through the research, and the way for me to make a case is occasionally to go with footage. So when you see archival footage, it says, This actually happened—it happened this way in that location with these people. That combination adds authenticity and truthfulness to the picture. I think at some point, it has other artistic elements like reality. What’s reality anymore? As real as the footage? As real as what we’re filming? There’s a blur between the two, which I find to be fascinating cinematically.
What was the most challenging aspect in shooting the film?
Yaron Zilberman: For me, the most challenging aspect was to be with the assassin—being on the assassin’s side. In order to make a good movie, you have to completely associate—I’m talking about director, not an audience. There is a director—in order for me to be able to help the lead actor or any actor to portray their character in the best way, I need to be part of it. I can’t look from the outside. I can’t be judgmental because then I can’t help them. For me to actually be for that period of time—several months of pre-production and then the process of filming—on the side of the assassin in order to help the actors it was the toughest one, emotionally.
Can any of you recall what you were doing when you learned the tragic news of his death?
Yaron Zilberman: Of course. I was at an event—a bar mitzvah of a son of friends and my family. We were there—me and back then was my wife, now ex-wife. We wanted to go to the rally at the end of the bar mitzvah but suddenly the bar mitzvah was cut short. Everybody said Rabin was shot. We were shocked. Everybody dispersed. We went to the car and drove. Suddenly, we heard on the radio that Rabin was actually dead. All the cars stopped in the middle of the street. We went out of the car and stood. It’s one of those events where you just can’t keep on driving or living a normal life anymore.
Yehuda Nahari Halevi: I was ten so I was a kid. I remember that I watched the event on TV. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand so much of what happened even though I was just like, okay, I do remember that I asked myself what it means right now. What it means because I’m from the neighborhood. I was raised in Herzliya where Yigal Amir went out to assassinate Yitzhak Rabin. I just remember there was a huge mass after that in the neighborhood. That’s all I remember.
What do you think might have happened if PM Rabin didn’t get killed in office?
Yaron Zilberman: I think there was potential that there would have been peace now. I believe in that because one thing leads to another. You cannot say now in retrospect that hey, look, there’s no peace, therefore, there was no opportunity for peace because he was shot and that changed history.
Yehuda, your’re playing Yigal Amir in the film. What drew you to the script and can you talk about your process in taking on the role?
Yehuda Nahari Halevi: Yeah, definitely. So as I said, I’m coming from the neighborhood. Our family knows his family. Also, my biggest brother is the same age as Yigal Amir so they used to play soccer together, even though I never met Yigal before. We are praying in the same synagogue—my father and his father—so I’m coming from this background. So I had it all even though I’m not keeping this way. I’m not religious. My father is religious but I’m not religious. None of us is religious and suddenly, Yaron gave me this opportunity. He told me that I got the part. Okay, let’s dive in! So he offered me to do the method acting and become religious. And that’s what I did. I’ve changed my—as you can see, how I dress. I changed the whole thing. I wore the same shoes that Yigal wore at the time. I started to walk as a religious—wear the tzitzit, kippah, and everything in black and white. I went to the synagogue three times a day. I kept Shabbat and I was avoiding women’s touch. I didn’t even hug or touch anyone, like anywhere. I took it very seriously. In order to understand more and to get his physical posture and to understand his logic, Yaron just fed me with so much information, testimonies, and videos. So for hours, I read so much and I saw how he holds himself and how he talked and how he walked—like how he walks in into the court—until I understood. Until I called Yaron so passionate, and then told him, “Okay, I understand and I know exactly what’s going on.” I just like throw out so much of—it’s like it just got me one second. It was a very powerful moment. I was so happy to feel that even though it was a bit scary. But I know through the whole journey that I have someone that I can trust and it’s was a great partnership. We almost we always like work telepathically. It was fascinating.
The film picked up ten nominations for the Israeli Ophir Awards. How honored are you?
Yaron Zilberman: Super exciting, very exciting. Best film and also he’s nominated for Best Actor. We hope that on the 22nd, he and the film will win. Yeah, super exciting.
Any thoughts on the upcoming elections? (Note: This took place prior to the Israeli elections.)
Yaron Zilberman: Wow. We really pray and hope and will vote and tell everybody to vote. I hope that there will be a major change but we are realistic—
Yehuda Nahari Halevi: I’m optimistic.
Yaron Zilberman: This gentleman is already running the show for 10 straight years so he’s finding a way to get reelected again and again. We’re skeptical and hopeful at the same time and will be active.
What do you want people to take away from watching Incitement?
Yaron Zilberman: For me, it’s to see the inner workings of how incitement works. How easily a political assassination or any eruption of violence can happen so quickly if you don’t have the checks and balances and figures that promote stabilizing society, and make sure that everybody is under control in terms of keeping violence at bay. I think for that you need the President, Prime Minister, religious figures, teachers, parents, older brothers to just be able to detect certain frustration, violent tendencies, thoughts, and to be able to find a way for this to channel it into different kind of energy.
Yehuda Nahari Halevi: For me, it is I want a change. A friend of mine after the screening told me, “Look, this is a very powerful movie.” I think that everyone who will see the movie, after that, they will do like a soul search with themselves (חיפוש נפש). That’s what I want the audience to take from this movie. They will bring a health healthy discussion with themselves and with the country that they live. In order to have a change/peace, you will see that we are misinterpreting the whole thing.