Today sees the release of the Israeli revenge thriller, Big Bad Wolves. Hot on the heels of their fantastic Rabies, writer/director duo Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado are hoping for big things from their metaphorical wolf tale. Starburst managed to get the best part of an hour with co-writer/director Papushado, as we set the world to rights on remakes, thrillers, and just who is the dominant force in the Keshales/Papushado dynamic. Whilst this is a taster, be sure to check out even more of our interview in Starburst #396, on sale shortly.
Starburst: So how did you and Aharon meet?
Navot Papushado: He was a professor for film theory, and encouraged me to do my own stuff. The other professors at the university kind of wanted to do more strong films, stuff that is more related to the Palestinian situation, dysfunctional families, something that would resonate well with big festivals. It’s like, “Ok, this is proper for Caen, for Berlin.” Stuff like that. I only wanted to do horror films and sci-fi films and action films, and Aharon is the only one that encouraged me to do that. Eventually he became, like, a manager. Ironically enough, a short film I did – a horror film – went in to Caen Film Festival. So we began working more together, and eventually he produced my graduation film. By then he was one of Israel’s most acclaimed film critic, so I told him, “Why not do a film together?” And I lured him… he’s a little bit like Marty McFly in the future… I told him, “Come on, are you afraid?” “I’m not afraid of anything, I’ll do it.”
See, I thought he would be more like your Master Yoda, in the way that he would be taking you under his wing, but no, you were trying to corrupt him…
I was trying to corrupt him, and I told him to just try this. He agreed to write, but he didn’t want to have credit. After the script was done, everyone was talking about that. I then decided to put his name on the script, and asked for him to do the casting with me. So he did the casting, and he loved the process. So, OK, now you’ve done the casting, come and direct with me now. And I kind of lured him, y’know? I left him, like, a trail of little candies. Eventually he became my co-director, and the rest is history.
With Big Bad Wolves, what actually inspired that story? What triggered it in your head?
I think after Rabies we had a couple of ideas. We wanted to explore some different genres. We didn’t want to be the guys that do purely just horror because we were influenced by so much other stuff. We had this idea to do something more drama orientated. We wanted to portray the life of a suspect paedophile whose life has been shattered because of the rumours. He’s a teacher who the kids are, like, spreading these rumours. His wife leaves him, doesn’t want to see him, and basically his life has been ruined. But it was too drama orientated. I remember being in a small festival in Portugal called Fantasporto, and we saw for the first time this Korean film called I Saw The Devil and our mind just… it just blew our mind. So we said, “OK, we have a couple of more ideas and now we know how to do it.” We took that drama about a suspect paedophile and we had this other idea about a lunatic father and then we had the vigilante cop. So we said, “OK, let’s put them all together; let’s do a film about all three characters.” Actually that’s how we pitched it. We wanted to do a Dirty Harry cop, with a Korean revenge thriller, written by the Brothers Grimm. They said, “Great! Can you make it PG-13?” We said, “No, no we can’t.”
There’s almost a black humour to the film at times. Was that intentional to relieve some of the tension at times or was it just natural to you?
For us, over the last 10 years or so, most horror films, even most thrillers, became very one tone. If it’s a thriller, it’s a thriller. If it’s an action film, it’s an action film. If it’s a horror film, it’s a horror film. If you put things into a thriller, and you’re dealing with a subject matter like this, you kind of expect a certain thing, but when the comedy gets in and brings some air to the film and you feel much more relaxed and much more comfortable… “OK, this is funny, I’m having fun… Oh no! Oh shit! What just happened?” So it’s another way to lower your guard, as the audience.
With the recent buzz around Big Bad Wolves, how does it feel to be drawing such attention to Israeli cinema?
We felt we were making the most Israeli films that we could think of. We were making something very local. We thought, “OK, it’s in Hebrew. I’m sure some parts of the world will like these exotic films that come out of Israel.” But when we saw how the international community reacted to it, we thought, “OK, maybe there is something here.” With Big Bad Wolves, it just exploded. We had no idea how much attention this would get. It’s not like this interactive pleasure film that we thought might be more mainstream. It’s heavy, the subject matter is much darker, the filmmaking aspects are much more mature. Maybe people were expecting Rabies 2 or a ‘slasher in the woods,’ so we were a bit shocked and excited to see how the world is embracing a film likes that, and a film that speaks Hebrew.
How has the film been received over in Israel?
The movie’s considered to be a blockbuster in terms of the mainstream films. It’s a huge success even in mainstream measures, and the film is rated R… so we couldn’t be happier. For 11 weeks we were number 1 in the critics table, which was great, until Gravity came and kicked us to second place. I now feel very comfortable with that. But I think it’s also a great achievement for such a violent and brutal film – we won 5 Israeli Oscars!
Moving forward, are there any genres or subgenres that you’d like to tackle in the future or are you going to stick with horrors or thrillers for a while?
We just feel very comfortable with genre films – we’re genre fans – and genre film festivals discovered us, and we owe everything to them. And I think we will keep doing genre films, but what genre we want to do… maybe taking place with a British colony in the ‘40s – we have that idea we want to do. We have a Nazi hunter film we are writing, which is more like an assassins film. We would love to make a sci-fi… but I think we’ll speak to the more familiar genre aspect of filmmaking.
That’s good, as if you stick with that then Starburst can keep covering those, so keep with those…
We will do. That’s a promise!
Are you looking to maybe branch over to Hollywood or are you happy to just keep making films in Hebrew? What’s you aspirations at present?
We don’t want to stop making films in Hebrew; we love the country, we love the actors, we love the freedom. We will keep pushing, keep promoting the industry in Israel and genre filmmaking in Israel, but yeah, we’ve been getting a lot of scripts from Hollywood and some fun stuff. We feel very comfortable doing films without losing our voice or our tone, so we would definitely like to explore that option, but we’ll never stop making films with Israeli actors and the Israeli industry and crew. It’s where we come from and we should never forget that. To do films in Hollywood? That’s just another aspect of our career. We’re waiting for the right project.
In terms of projects you’ve received, what was the worst one?
You get those, especially after Rabies, where they thought the only thing we want to do is horrors. We got all of these… not even B movies. We were shocked. There are a lot of bad movies being produced there, but we’re very patient. And right now we’ve been getting a lot of good scripts. Not all of them are up our alley… we won’t do a film just because it’s in Hollywood. We have great agents and managers, and I think patience… it’s worth waiting for.
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