In a highly eventful mentoring year, protégé Tom Shoval was invited to watch post-production work on Alejandro González Iñárritu’s masterpiece, Birdman, and was present when his mentor received three Academy Awards for his film at the 2015 Oscars. Iñárritu invited Shoval to witness the filming of his new feature film, The Revenant, in the Canadian Rockies. The young director was almost overwhelmed by his mentor’s generosity in terms of the access he was given, which included a visit to the famous studios founded by George Lucas in San Francisco.
Tom Shoval, whose debut feature, Youth (2013), won Best Film at the Jerusalem Film Festival, has been fascinated by film since an early and bewildering encounter with the work of Ingmar Bergman. He hopes his mentoring year with acclaimed Mexican film-maker Alejandro Iñárritu will help him understand, among other things, how to achieve a sense of universality in his films.
Growing up in the 1980s in a middle-class suburb of Tel Aviv, I think I had a fairly normal upbringing, and cinema was a very big part of it. My father was crazy about film, and when I was very young he used to take me to see everything with him. When the scenes were too grown up, he would touch me on the arm and I would have to look down.
When I was seven years old, my parents left me alone in the house one day, and there was this really high shelf where they kept the videos that I wasn’t allowed to watch. I managed to climb up and get one. I thought it was going to be something erotic or violent, but when it started, it was this really weird film that was in a language that I had never heard in my life, and with these mediaeval people in black and white. A really frightening film, it was so strong I couldn’t take my eyes from the screen. And then the film ended and I cried. I didn’t know why, but I knew from that moment that I wanted to make films. It wasn’t until years later that I found out that it was Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. The way that film enters people’s consciousness is a kind of miracle, a kind of gift to humanity.
A style of my own
Even though I began playing with cameras from a very early age, when I went to the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School after I got out of the army, I realized that I didn’t know anything. It was at the school that I really started to develop a style of my own, and to decide what it was that I wanted to do with film.
I love films that seem to come out of deep personal experience, but go beyond being just personal – films like Pialat’s L’enfance nue, or Iñárritu’s Amores Perros. My creativity comes from the traumatic experience of my father losing his job and what that did to the family. That experience feeds into a lot of my work, including Shred of Hope, which was my graduation project at film school, and Youth, my first feature. But even though the starting point is a very personal experience, through the language of cinema, it becomes universal. I love moral complexity and ambiguity in film. I deliberately set out to explore what it means to be good in Youth, where the protagonists want to do a good thing but end up doing something bad.
Issues of goodness
I want to have an audience. I don’t want to make films that nobody wants to see, but, at the same time, I want to make films that are different, that have something new to say. One of the things I admire about Alejandro is his ability to do this, and I hope that my year as his protégé will give me some opportunities to see how he works. I am very excited about being able to talk to him about the project that I am currently working on, which also deals with the issue of goodness, and of doing good.
I still can’t really believe that this door has opened for me. I had the same feeling of unreality when we met in Los Angeles. We were having dinner in this restaurant and I kept seeing the scene from the other side of the room. I couldn’t really believe that I was there.
March 2016 Alejandro González Iñárritu has become one of three people to win Best Director in consecutive years.
December 2015 The closing ceremony honouring the mentors and protégés of 2014–2015 capped off a brilliant Rolex Arts Weekend.