Tuesday, October 6, 2009

An interview ith Nitsana Bellehson, director of the short film FLAT

Recently, I told you here, about FLAT a movie that my friend Nitsana had produced and directed. As I told you then, FLAT has been entered in an internation film competition in Toronto, Canada. All of the films are themed around breast cancer and the one receiving the most votes will win.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Nitsana graciously accepted my invitation to interview her about the film. If you want to view the film, click here. If you liked it, you can vote for it up to three times.

Here's the interview:

Is this the first movie you have produced and directed?

No, but this is the first film I have completed that I conceived of and created. I have done a few music videos and short films for clients for events, for internet advertising and more. I regularly film stories for Israel21c and I have been working on a full length documentary that is near completion.

What was the inspiration for the movie? How did you come up with the specific idea?

I wanted to do a film that made us shift our perception regarding cancer. There is a kind of underlying belief that cancer just “happens” to us – and we don’t know why it happens. Science still doesn’t know why exactly cancer happens in one person and not another – but it is fair to say that we have discovered that a western lifestyle seems to be a catalyst to increased cancer incidence. (studies show that as societies westernize, there is an increase of incidence.) Since I had cancer I have become much more aware of what is in the food I am eating, the products I am putting in my body, the air I breathe – because I realize that if I want to be well then I must take responsibility. I wanted to create a film that inspires us to look at the way we live as a society – and don’t take it as a given.

So – I had this idea to go to the future – when women don’t have breasts anymore – and instead of talking about it seriously having fathers tell their sons how great it was once, long ago. I was under a very tight deadline to produce this film to make it in time for the contest – and after a day of racking my brains – I went to a friend’s birthday party where I encountered three of my male friends who have really silly, fun senses of humor – and I told them about my idea and asked to brainstorm. They were excited to be able to brainstorm about breasts – and Mitch, one of the guys said “I see them walking through a museum” – and that was it! I knew we had our idea. The other two guys acted in the film!

And the concept of the fact that women didn’t have breasts because they were taken off preventatively was inspired by a friend who had undergone this operation. I have no judgment about her personal choice – because this is the stage that treatment is at right now. But I think its absolutely crazy that the way we treat this disease is to take off parts of the body as though they are unnecessary. Again – I am not against people doing it. I did chemo, radiation – the whole bit – and I would do it again because I believe that it helped eradicate the illness from my body. I just think that in our thinking we need to go towards prevention and towards treatments that do not destroy the body. I think that is the way of the future – and there are scientists doing incredible, wonderful work in this area. And I support that!

What kind of support did you have putting the movie together?

Such incredible support from all my friends and colleagues – I have no words!! No financial support – didn’t have time even to turn to anyone about it! I had known about the Breast Fest Contest – but I had been focused on doing a long documentary about breast cancer and so thought this contest was not for me. But about two weeks before the deadline I got a reminder from them into my inbox and it clicked something in me – and I realized, I probably should be in this contest. I have something to say about breast cancer – and this is the platform to say it. I was kind of wavering to get committed to do it because two weeks seemed an impossible deadline – but I spoke to my friend and colleague Shelly – and she said – yes! You most definitely have to be in it. That gave me the push I needed to take on this project along with all my other work. I right away knew to get help from wherever I could. I sent first drafts to a scriptwriter friend Joel – who helped enormously by telling me I was aiming too small and got my concept from talking it over with friends. All my girlfriends were willing to send me pictures of their cleavage (we went with more racy pictures in the end) and then it came to casting and production…. I was looking for a space to film in – I thought I was looking for all white walls so that we could add in the pictures in after effects – but I by chance met an old friend with a gallery on the weekend – and thought – hey, maybe we can do it in the gallery? He said yes, my editor said it could work and that was key to have that place. My regular cameraman was not free to volunteer – so I thought maybe I would shoot it – couldn’t conceive of starting to ask around for people to work for free. I then asked my editor who also does camera work if maybe he would like to do it – as it would be a fun challenge for him – but he right away said – I will get you someone – and Moshe Gelber, an incredible professional, volunteered and brought all the equipment – making the production as high quality as it was. I had two of the best editors in the country – Ziv Appleberg (editor and AE) and Uzzi Alexander (AE) editing and doing after effects to create the final look of the film, both working on a volunteer basis and with a great amount of love – and did a wonderful job. My friend Keren helped me recruit a volunteer sound person and both Betty, makeup, and Yamit, wardrobe, volunteered- Yamit came up with the concept of the hoods! I didn’t have time to even think of auditions – so I called on friends who were actors to do the main parts, my funny friends to do some cameos – and all the other extras are friends and people in my life who volunteered in the hot sun in those long clothes and really took time out of their day. I appreciate them! And on the day of production – Inbal came to organize the production, Shelly and Keren helped out on set and everyone really made it work – down to Ziv, my editor, helping me get from place to place on the day of the shoot because my car had died and was in the shop!

Who is your intended audience?


What did you hope to accomplish by producing this movie?

To raise awareness. To make people think about the choices they make in their every day lives. To make people realize that cancer is not inevitable.

What has been the reaction to the film? Have there been negative reactions because of the nudity? How do you respond to those critics?

Almost everyone who has seen it has told me that they think it’s a powerful film. Some people called me the day after the premiere to tell me that it stayed with them all day. Some people have said that its scary. One friend who saw it last night didn’t like it so much – she said it bothered her that it was so strong. All those are good comments I think. It is supposed to make you uncomfortable, but hopefully – make you laugh a little too. And regarding the nudity – no, no negative reactions from anyone who saw it. When my sister heard that there was nudity in it she asked me why there had to be nudity? But I am pretty sure that when she sees it she will understand. I did actually make a first version of the museum which was mostly just cleavage – but it didn’t make you feel anything, didn’t bother you, wasn’t shocking. I realized I needed to switch the pictures to something a bit more graphic in order to make the experience more powerful for the viewer.

I remember the days when you dreamed of being an actress. Obviously your career and art have evolved a great deal. Are you happy with the direction it has taken? What are your plans for the future?

I am very happy with what I am doing now – but I still love to act and would love to do it any time it's offered! My plans for the future include a long film about breast cancer interviewing cancer survivors about their experiences, finishing my other documentary – about how people make changes in their lives – and producing and directing a whole slate of other ideas that I am developing, including projects for the internet and for film. I plan on being healthy, active, in love and living with a partner and family. And my biggest plan is being happy and satisfied in my life – no matter what shows up.

More than breast cancer, the movie makes a huge statement about the environment. Is this something you are involved in? How has having breast cancer changed the way you deal with this issue?

I am involved in the environment as we all are – I live in it! It affects me personally. I am not part of a movement if that’s what you mean – although I do work out of a place called The Hub – an incubator for social and environmental issues. I think that living responsibly on our planet is an imperative. We are just beginning to become aware of the effects of our choices, of consumerism – and I want to do what I can to feel and live better – for myself and for everyone around me.

Why wasn't I asked to pose?

Would you like to? You can be in the sequel.

Good luck to you, Nitsana as you enter the last few days of the competition!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this interview Baila.

Anonymous said...

I LOVED this - I'll come back after I go see the movie but just wanted to tell you how excited I am to know the wonderful work Nitsana is doing.


Klara said...


I don't know how I would have felt if I hadn't read your interview first - but the most moving part was the end where they are warned to put on their masks and they go out to all what I assume are toxic fumes. Forty years down the line isn't that far, maybe I might even be alive, but hate to think we can't do things today to change it.

I'm just figuring out how to blog and managed to mention it - now how to link it?

mother in israel said...

Nitsana's film and an interview was the cover story of the Haaretz insert on biotechnology! The topic of the issue was breast cancer.