Saturday, May 28th | 28 Iyyar 5782

June 21, 2021 10:45 am

How an Israeli Film Director Learned Patience and Resilience

avatar by Alan Zeitlin


“Asia” director Ruthy Pribar, left, and actress Shira Haas. Photo: Screenshot.

Director and writer Ruthy Pribar got two great pieces of news in one day, but never expected the second to so greatly impact the first.

The 38-year-old Tel Aviv resident found out that she got the budget for her debut feature film, and then learned that she was pregnant. Her joy soon turned to confusion, however, when she found out that no company would grant the production insurance for the film while she was pregnant.

“I was really shocked,” Pribar said in a phone interview. I never even thought of it as a possibility.”

The director of Asia was asked if she would have a director replace her, but she insisted on being the director.

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She waited a year to shoot the film, and then about another year due to the pandemic.

“When you’re in the film industry, it’s all about patience,” she said. “I’ve been working on this film for six or seven years, so patience is a key part of the job.”

The director said she was inspired to make the film from emotions she felt after her sister passed away at the age of 32, shortly before Pribar began her studies at the famed Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem. She said her sister went into the hospital for what was supposed to be a routine surgery, got an unexpected infection, and tragically died.

Pribar said it was a tough time in her life to figure out how to continue in a positive mind-frame, but was able to lean on her mother, who was extremely supportive and full of love.

“Most of my years then were about trying to understand what happened in my life and how I would keep living on without my sister, and thinking how death is portrayed in cinema or in life,” she said. “We try not to acknowledge that we’re all gonna die. I think that’s why we’re so terrified. I tried to make a film that doesn’t talk about death, but talks about life, and how we can make the best of the situation we’re in, even when facing something terrifying.”

In the film, Vika — played by Shira Haas — loses power in her muscles and eventually needs to be carried. The crux of the film is her relationship with her mother, Asia, played superbly by Alena Yiv, as a woman who cares for her daughter and must control her emotions in order to show love rather than pity.

“I didn’t want the film to be about a disease,” Pribar said, as to why she didn’t mention the ailment in the film. “I wanted it to be about their relationship.”

Asia won the Ophir Award, or the Israeli Oscar, for Best Film of 2020, while Yiv won the Ophir for Best Actress.

The director praised Haas, and said it was a pleasure to work with her.

“She’s wonderful,” Pribar said. “She deserves everything she’s getting because she puts so much of herself into her work and it really shows in every project she does. I was surprised she became an international star because we come from Israel, a very small country. It’s funny in New York now when people spot her in the street. But I’m not surprised at her doing so well because she works so hard. And the world is changing. A few years back, people didn’t see films from all over the world, but now its easier to get to people with streaming. People from all over the world are watching things from Israel.”

She said while there are sad parts in the film, she hopes people will look at it with optimism in terms of being in touch with one’s emotions and spending time with people you love.

“I don’t want people to come out of the film and feel like someone stepped on them,” she said. “I do want people to react to these characters and feel for them. I think the film is all about life and seizing the opportunities you have while loving the people around you.”

Pribar said she did not let her own mother read the script, but would update her on casting — and that her mother was one of the first people to see the film when it was finished.

Asia is now playing in New York, and will finally be in theaters later in the month in Israel.

As for the film coming out at time when there have been expressions of hate for Jews and Israel, she said she isn’t so worried.

“It’s a universal story that happens in Israel and can speak to everybody because it’s about human emotions,” she said. “I haven’t ever experienced any antisemitism. I know it happens sometimes. I hope it doesn’t happen to me. Maybe it’s because we haven’t traveled so much because of Covid.”

Alan Zeitlin is a writer based in New York.

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