Interviewer: Ran Tal
Tomer Heymann and I have known each other for many years. I've followed Tomer's impressive career closely throughout the years of our acquaintance. The incredible success of Mr. Gaga took him to the pinnacle of Israeli cinema after many years, which made me very happy. I thought it was an excellent "excuse" to stop for a moment, meet and talk about his filmmaking.
I want to start with the first impression one gets from your films over the years – the passion to film people. Sometimes it actually feels lascivious. What makes you get up in the morning, grab a camera and shoot?
For me it's very elemental, it has to do with vitality, emotion, passion. I truly have to be excited about seeing the person, the character. It's the feeling that I have to be there, otherwise it won't work.
Why do you have to be there? After all, it's a big effort to wake up in the morning, drive, meet someone, delve into his life and start filming him.
It has to be me. I mean, if it doesn't interest me I won't do it. I can't go film someone who doesn't interest me. It's not as if every character interests me all the time, and it requires an effort, but you're talking about the initial flame, like when you light a bonfire and you have to light the first match and then add kindling and keep the fire going, it requires technical work, you have to gather kindling and branches and bring them over, the fire goes out, you have to add newspaper and light it again. You're talking about the initial ignition. Why you go out into the cold night and light a fire in the first place.
I suppose I feel like something more interesting than my own life is happening at that time, at that moment. In a certain sense I use people, their lives, their hurts, their joys… I guess at that moment there's something more interesting than my life there.
Why record the person, film him? You could just talk to him.
Over the years, first I filmed, and only later did I figure out what I'd do with it. If I were to divide my work into two periods or processes, for a very long time I filmed footage that I knew subconsciously that I'd want to do something with it one day. When I started filming my family at very young ages, in not the most pleasant situations, it answered a very different need than during the second period when I was more aware and I knew I wanted to create something from it in the end. Which period are you asking about?
Let's start with the first, when you were filming ostensibly for no purpose. How do you see it now, twenty years later, and why?
Now, when I think about it, I find it embarrassing and sometimes hard to watch the things I did, but I can stand behind those films. It's a certain very deep disability and intense fear of intimacy.
What do you mean?
What do I mean? Why can't I be in the hospital with my mother when she needs me? It was a period when most of my family was in the States, she was divorced from my father, and she really wanted me to visit her. And if I'm honest with myself, I knew there was a better chance that I'd visit her and spend more time with her and show more interest in her if I had a camera with me. That's a realization that it took me a long time to admit, and it's not an easy one, it's a real problem, but it's the truth. Imagine, your mother's in the hospital – and I love my mother, although granted, we have a complicated relationship. But she's important to me and I need a camera in order to be with her. But it's not just my mother. It's my partner, too. I'll suddenly aim my camera at him and observe him.
So you say it's fear of intimacy?
It's a bigger problem than fear of intimacy. It's the feeling that if you don't benefit from it, if it doesn't have any added advantage, if you don't get to keep some of it, just being together isn't enough for you. It's almost greed. It's an emptiness in your soul, a hunger. It parallels a period of wild sex in my life, when, if I didn't go to a club and end up having an adventure that night, I felt like I wasn't alive. It comes from the same place. What's behind it? An intense uneasiness, fear of intimacy, searching for meaning in this brief life, and it also, let's admit it, makes life more interesting. Back then life wasn't interesting enough for me unless I was filming. Then came the process of editing and making it into a film. But without filming, life wasn't full or interesting enough.
Do you watch your films from that period today?
Today, the hardest part for me about watching my films from the past is the reflection of what I looked like fifteen years ago. I refuse to go to screenings now because of that. And people offer me a lot of money and love me and compliment me and I'm ashamed to tell them the truth. Listen, I can't do it. It's too hard. I can't stand seeing myself so young. It kills me.
Why do you film now? You still have to wake up in the morning, drive your car, meet someone, invest energy.
First of all, I'm in a different place now. The project I'm currently working on is about a porn actor. But the act of filming is much harder for me and answers that need much less now, so it slows me down. In a certain sense I'm at a crossroads in terms of documentary filmmaking. This is the first time in my life after a very long time that I don't know what my next project will be.
You have to understand, I'm the kind of guy who's still working on a project and next thing you know I'm into something else, I just have to meet someone and I instantly know if I'm excited and into him and I want to film him for my next movie. There's no research, no paperwork, I don't have to spend a lot of time with him before shooting, it's immediate.
Elaborate on the way you decide what your next project will be.
I don't choose a subject. It comes to me, meets me halfway. Let's take, for instance, how I started to film Paper Dolls (2006). I happened to be at a party of theirs, they came up to talk to me, and they started laughing at me, making fun of me. That was amazing, they were being funny and I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know that I'd be spending six years of my life with them. I remember that moment, when I happened to end up at their party. What if I hadn't gone there?
Did all your projects come about that way? You went somewhere, saw something, and instantly realized that that was it?
All of my important projects, yes. With It Kinda Scares Me (2001), for example, I was a youth counselor working with a group of teenagers. It never occurred to me to make a film about them, but a moment came when I looked at the kids, when we were going through a hard time, when they were being destructive, actually, and I got mad and hated them but at the same time something human struck me and I said: let's start filming. Filming what, I had no idea. Later on it got even worse. Not only didn't I have any idea, I didn't want an idea. I don't work with researchers.
I beg your pardon? What about your partner Tali Shamir-Werzberger?
Tali's the only one. Tali realized something while working with me. She needs a title so we call her "researcher," but she's more than that, she's my right-hand woman. There were times when we argued and I got mad that she "dared" to delve too deep or ask questions of the characters and protagonists and hand it to me on paper. She did that once or twice and then she understood, because she came from the school of thought where you go ask questions and bring the director a written, predetermined research paper and you have to come prepared. And I work the totally opposite way.
If I'm going to a shoot and I know in advance what I'm going to get, what the energy will be like, where it's going to be filmed and what's going to happen, I don't want to go. It doesn't interest me.
You don't plan your shoots?
So you don't say: I'm going to meet him at the pool and then I'll go with him to his house and…
There are very general guidelines.
You have to plan where to meet, when, for how long, and why today and not tomorrow.
It's much less planned-out and more open than you think and describe.
Most of my favorite scenes, the most powerful scenes in my films, were unplanned.
But there is planning. For instance, in the gorgeous scene in "Paper Dolls" we see the Filipino caregiver walking to the synagogue with his patient. Wasn't that planned?
Yes, let's take that scene as an example so you'll understand: I met the Paper Dolls, the film's protagonists, by chance, at a party, and they told me they work in Bnei Brak [a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) city] all week. I couldn't believe they do drag shows and work in Bnei Brak. I drove my scooter to Bnei Brak with cameraman Itai Raziel the cameraman and all I knew was that they work with Haredis. We didn't have modest clothing so we weren't allowed into their homes. We had planned to film Cheeky, one of the protagonists, going into a supermarket. He was born male, but since he looks like a woman they wouldn't let him into the supermarket as a man. The people at the supermarket told him to dress as a woman. I found that very interesting, but unfortunately they wouldn't let us film the scene. I tried to film inside the synagogue but they wouldn't let us in there, either. I asked them to just let the cameraman in and I stayed outside, and in my headphones I heard Cheeky listening to a song by ABBA and I said to Itai: You have to film this scene and think about the sound for it. And thus a wonderful scene was born by chance. A Talmud lesson in a Jewish synagogue, and Cheeky the Filipino with his ambiguous sexual identity listening to a song by ABBA.
A no less interesting example is the scene where they make me up and try to turn me into something between a man and a woman. The scene was a result of me coming to apologize to them for not being able to come to a shoot the next day. A friend of mine was getting married. I came on my scooter with Itai the cameraman and instead of being upset about the shoot they said to me: No way are you going to the wedding unshaven. And half-jokingly they locked the door from the inside and told me: Sit in the chair, we'll get your ready for the wedding. You can't go to a wedding this way, you'll embarrass us. They're speaking their language and I don't understand what they're saying, but I can tell they're making fun of me. I went along with it, Itai filmed it, and that's how it happened.
The scene essentially begins as a mistake, with a cameraman with finely honed instincts sitting there in an armchair who starts shooting. At first I didn't even know he was filming, then later he told me or I felt it. I didn't know how he was shooting, I was sitting in the chair, and if you watch the scene you see that its strength is in the cinematography, in the fact that he captures the exact moment when I turn to the mirror and see myself as a half-man, half-woman.
Is that typical of your work?
Yes. The coming-out-of-the-closet scene in It Kinda Scares Me was also unplanned – perhaps one of the most important scenes in the film.
Aviv Geffen invited the boys to a concert of his. A week before that he was a guest of mine at the Youth Advancement center in Azor and he met the boys. I remember telling Oren the cameraman at the last minute: Come film the boys going out to the concert. As they were boarding the bus one of the kids asked me out of the blue: Is it possible that a friend of mine saw you at a gay club? You have to realize, at that point I was deep in the closet and my mentor at the center also told me not to tell them I'm gay. I ignore the question and we keep filming them and they go to the concert. A week before that they saw me with my boyfriend at the beach and they were sure he was my brother, and they laughed at me for not introducing them because I must be ashamed of them. That really bothered me. In the middle of the show my brother and partner Barak phoned me and I told him how I felt. Barak said: Hey, just tell them, don't keep it to yourself. After the show I asked them to stick around and talk, we voted on whether to stay, and we stayed. Oren the photographer knew that I'm gay but he didn't know what the scene was going to be about, that I was going to tell them I'm gay. In retrospect, that was why it was hard to edit, but that's also its strength, that the cameraman didn't know what he was going to shoot. There's a certain fascinating texture to that scene – the kids are tremendously flustered and I'm emotional. You have to realize, the decision to film is spontaneous and happens at the given moment. At that moment a dramatic scene was created which became central to the film. It just happened there next to the trash cans outside the concert, with a cameraman who had no idea what was going to happen, or how to film it, which is why he's shaking and can't decide whether to shoot me or the kids.
Can you still work that way now?
No, no, no. No.
I used to find the mystery exciting and I was even drawn to the esthetic mess in the frame and the chaos of the photography, but now I have a problem with it. My awareness is also more up-front. Most people I meet understand what my goal is. Now, when I visit my mother with a camera, she already has the series The Way Home in mind; eight episodes, two films, the Berlin Festival and so on. She understands that the act of filming results in something. My relationship with her is totally different when I have a camera with me. It was very powerful, visiting her when neither of us knew what would come of it. That's lost now.
It's different now because you became "the" Tomer Heymann?
I don't like that concept, "the" Tomer Heymann.
Something of the spontaneity, the naiveté, is lost.
There's something about the act of filming which is the exact opposite of naive. It involves a lot of vested interests and exploitation – on the part of both the director and the protagonists – but back then there was also a naiveté, an innocence and not knowing what I was going for. It's like kissing someone you don't know. You don't know what the kiss will lead to.
So you believe that there is a truth, and the role of your camera is to try to capture that authentic moment?
That's not the role of the camera, it's the role of the director.
The whole concept of capturing the truth and being a fly on the wall and the idea that a documentary film reflects reality – I don't believe in it. Every decision you make at every point has to do with filmmaking. The second you choose to shoot, the minute you start shooting, you start manipulating. Let's start by admitting that. And looking back on 15 years of my work, I can say that when I was editing (and in this context I want thank the first editor who worked with me for years, Ido Muchrik), I tried to develop a documentary language of my own. My commitment is to reflect much more than reality, which is why I have no problem, in fact I like to break away from the timeline of a story. It took me a long time to figure out how to work with a cameraman or an editor. Sometimes it made our relationships complicated. I come from the field. True, I studied at Camera Obscura for two years, but essentially I come from the field. And I'm glad I do, because in retrospect I realize that they didn't manage to ruin me, to train me to be like someone else, and that allowed me to discover my own documentary language that manages to faithfully express the new story that was created in the editing suite. My story takes place in the editing suite. I started out by buying a Sony camera in '95 and I just started shooting. I had a very basic understanding of cinematography, but mainly I loved the cinema. I learned by trial and error and I tried to create a language that suited me. I realized immediately that in documentary cinema the person who directs the film initially is the cameraman. The role of the camera is absolutely crucial, which is why I fought and refused to give it up. I paid for it with a lot of arguments with cameramen. The other role which determines the result is that of the editor, and they're both very important to the piece, but I'm not willing to place the piece in their hands. They're important partners, but ultimately I have to stand 100 percent behind every choice made in the film. Sometimes this demand creates a lot of tension and frustration. Especially in films where I'm the subject being filmed.
In recent years you've felt a need to be a character in the story.
I didn't feel that need. That's the whole point. I didn't feel a need.
I think you did feel the need. Please explain why, at first, your films featured you as a character, and in recent years you've stopped, you've left the frame.
I'll say it again – there was no strategic advance decision. These are choices that I think will be good for the film and will serve the story and the piece as a whole. Another consideration is whether I'm undergoing a major change as a person and whether that change affects what's being filmed. I realized I want to share this with the audience and have the audience go through the process with me. Over the years I've come to understand more clearly that this shared process makes the films more alive and more interesting, that the viewer starts at one emotional point and ends up at another. And that intensifies the experience.
Take Mr. Gaga (2015) for example. It's not as if I woke up in the morning and decided I want to be a character in a movie or I don't want to be one. My realization in the case of Mr. Gaga was that I don't need to be seen or heard, and that that would make the film more powerful. That's true of that particular film. Tomorrow morning I could change my mind. One important thing is not to enslave yourself to ideologies and fall in love with forms, but to listen to the raw footage. In It Kinda Scares Me we started shooting with the idea in mind of not filming me, and then Oren Yacobovich the cameraman came to me and said: Listen, it's absurd that I have to stop shooting every time you enter the frame. Tomer, you're part of the story, you're their counselor; and he added: It makes the dynamic much more interesting. And I said: Go for it.
I like that kind of coincidence. If I know how the shoot will begin and which questions I'll ask, I get depressed. I like the element of uncertainty and the opportunity to make mistakes and take risks. I find that exciting. Most shots that became key scenes in my films were a result of the space I had to make mistakes and do things that weren't planned. If I start a shoot and end it with the same emotional perspective and knowledge, I haven't fulfilled my role as a director. If I got all the right answers and the scenes are excellent but I foresaw everything that happened, I haven't done my job properly. The scene will be on film, but I killed it, and that's the recipe for a boring movie.
When you decided to step out of the frame was it only a question of whether you were essential to the story? Or was it also because you wanted to control the camera and the cameraman?
It was always for the good of the thing itself, for the good of the film. And how I'd have the most impact. Understand, it's important to me to undergo the process myself. In Paper Dolls I came a long way as a person. I impacted the story and it impacted me. I started from a semi-homophobic standpoint and turned into their semi-manager and a member of the family. I remember asking Itai Raziel the cameraman to film us in two-shots (me and Sally, one of the protagonists from the Paper Dolls). Itai tried to fit us both into the same frame until one day at a shoot he told me it was almost impossible to take two-shots of us since I wouldn't stand close to her. I asked him: What do you mean? He said: You seem to have an aversion to being physically close to Sally and the members of the Paper Dolls. That struck me; I went back and looked at the footage. It took me a long time to feel comfortable with them and we gradually got closer until I shared a bed with them in Eilat. I don't control and don't want to control the way things develop – on the contrary, I'm always hoping to discover new things. That's what it's all about.
How do you decide that you also want to shoot a given project?
There were periods when I felt I was honing my cinematic skills. There were projects which I felt only I could shoot. This feeling came from the fact that I couldn't put into words and explain to the cameraman what I wanted, what I was looking for, and I felt a need to control the way the camera captured the moment. There were also films where I felt a need to have a cameraman at my side and for us to work on the frame more precisely.
There was a period in my life when holding the camera between myself and the character brought out something in me that I enjoyed. Something that enabled me to communicate better with the world and get more out of people.
If I were to put the process in order: First you say that cinematography is communication and you enjoy the act itself; then you bring in a cameraman but you're still part of the narrative; then you back off even farther and observe the characters and mold the reality.
That's right, but now, for example, after I declared a certain distancing, in the film I'm currently shooting, Yonatan Agassi Saved My Life, I find myself going back and filming scenes myself. The protagonist, Yonatan, also told me: You have to do the camera work alone. After I announced that I didn't want to. It's too much pressure. Is the card empty? Was I really filming? The responsibility for the sound, the responsibility for the image. I don't enjoy that any more. But I'm doing it again because Yonatan Agassi the protagonist made it clear to me that if I want the real footage, some of which is harsh, I have to be there alone with the camera. There's no room there for a film crew, and he also felt I was the only one he could trust because of the sensitivity of things.
Contrary to the ideology I sold you about not wanting to shoot the films, I also think that good cameramen made my films better. I realized I was going back to the It Kinda Scares Me period, buying a small camera and going around shooting in the field. I think we must avoid enslaving ourselves to forms and to predetermined decisions. This has become very clear to me over the years, not to be a victim of formal principles. The thing itself has demands. My current film has demands, which I thought I'd forgone. The raw material, the protagonist, leave me no choice. Shooting Yonatan Agassi, who's a porn star, I found myself filming extreme scenes with naked men standing next to me on stage. I'm totally with the protagonist. No cameraman would be willing to do that or even go there. The protagonist isn't willing to have anyone else there, and I shoot it and come up with quality footage that brings me back to the days of The Way Home (2009).
So you look down on people who plan ahead? Slaves to forms?
I think they're kind of their own victims. I'm the type of person who can really enjoy other people's work which is very different from my own. I enjoy lots of different things. But in many "important" films I also spot a lack of attention to the core itself, to what the thing demands. When I'm editing I always ask: Where is the thing itself? Does it demand something else entirely? I know that the audience will accept anything that results from the actual footage even if there are "problems" in terms of continuity or script. I feel like that's where my strength lies. And if I relinquish my instincts or they run out on me, I'll be just another director who makes films – good, bad, liked, unliked.
Another important thing – I'm afraid of uncommunicativeness. Documentary cinema is profound and important but it also has to communicate with the viewer. I guess that's part of my personality. If only ten or two-hundred people see my films, I get depressed. When a film meets an audience and it's alive, that keeps me alive. If you want to kill me, give me a film that makes a million dollars and wins a million awards but nobody sees it. That would kill me.
After so many years of editing and very successful films, how much do you think about the audience while you're editing?
In the early stages I don't think about who's going to watch the film. In It Kinda Scares Me there was a scene that people suggested I include in order to draw an audience. Aviv Geffen was at his height at the time and there's an excellent scene where Aviv comes to visit the kids I was working with in Azor and sings "Mexico" for them. It was 1999, everyone said the same thing: This is Aviv Geffen at the height of his career and you don't edit out a scene like that. It was a good scene. But I took it out because other scenes were better.
What is your relationship with your editors like?
The editing suite is the place where the documentary film is molded and directed. It's dramatic. I'm pretty amazed at the freedom and the power that directors give their editors. I insist on working closely with my editors because I place tremendous importance on the editing and the partnership and dialogue with editors. It's crucial. That's where the film happens.
In the editing suite, I assume, you must incorporate your footage into a story. In the end, your films are very story-like. They tell a powerful story.
The story happens in the editing suite thanks to the dialogue, which, even if it's harsh, it makes the story better. It doesn't happen during shooting. But you must realize that there too I'm alone with myself, ultimately, in terms of how the film is progressing and when it's ready. It Kinda Scares Me spent a lot of time in the editing suite as a completely different film. About teenagers becoming more religious. I wasn't in the film and my coming out wasn't in the film. And everyone was happy with it. They wanted me to say "it's a wrap." And of course there was no money to keep editing it, but fortunately I had the producer Hagai Levi who gave me the backing to keep going. That's where I developed a method that suits me. At a certain point I ask my filmmaking partners to leave me alone with the film. And I try to go back to the starting point when I first experienced the footage and remember how I reacted to it the first time, before the natural atrophy that sets in after hundreds of hours in the editing suite. I try to "delete" my mind like a computer until I manage to see it as a film about someone else.
Are you able to see it afresh?
Afresh, with absolute defamiliarization. It's like a Japanese director working somewhere in Japan and it has nothing to do with me. This is a point that I think directors give up on too readily. Afterwards their experience in dealing with the film is very frustrating.
You're known for re-editing films after they were finished and shown to audiences.
That's right. I don't give up until I'm absolutely satisfied with the film! Should I be frustrated with my work? Are you crazy?
When did you last re-edit a film?
With Mr. Gaga the film was already a wrap. It was screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival and we immediately received invitations to festivals all over the world. Alex, the soundtrack designer, couldn't believe I was calling him and telling him we're reopening the whole thing. You have to realize, reopening a film also has very heavy financial implications for the producers.
I think the system needs to be changed. I think a film should be screened before an audience at the premiere, you should sit with the audience and watch it, and budget another month or two of work on it in advance. You don't always understand everything about a film in the editing suite. Only when I go into the movie theater and sit in the audience do I feel and understand it, what works and what doesn't. I realize I can improve the duration of shots and the pace of scenes.
Do you recommend re-editing finished films?
Definitely. You know how I know when a film of mine is finished? Sometimes I walk or drive my scooter at night after an editing session, since I can't sleep anyway, and I tell the story in my head. And it's a long story. My films are 90 minutes long or longer. I watch the film in my head, scene by scene. I recount the whole film to myself. But if I get stuck, if I can't remember something, that means something in the film isn't working. Now, you could say I forgot, how can you remember every cut? I'm not satisfied until I reach the point where I can retell the whole film to myself without getting stuck. I wonder why my mind can't remember the order of scenes I worked on just yesterday, but to me it's a sign that the film isn't finished. It does tell itself well enough. And this drives people mad. They say I'm capricious and crazy.
Doesn't it drive your producers crazy?
Whose film is it? Who does it belong to? It doesn't belong to the audience. And the audience is very important. It doesn't belong to the producer, who, luckily for me in this case, is my brother Barak, who gives me all this freedom because he understands how much it means to me and I see him as a full partner in my creative work. And it doesn't belong to the people from the film fund who'll be doing something else four years from now, and it doesn't belong to the channel, either. I have to live with it for the rest of my life.
That's a dramatic statement.
For many years of my youth I lived with a mother figure who was very embittered and frustrated. That experience scarred me. I'm glad to say that in recent years she's become a much more satisfied person and I think that has to do with observing herself and her image in all eight episodes of the series The Way Home. I don't know how many years I have left, but I refuse to die embittered and frustrated. That may be the only thing I'm afraid of. So one of my remedies for the feeling that it could all end tomorrow is that I can say: Hey, I love this piece. I'm crazy about it. That may not sound very modest, but that's what gives me the strength to face good and bad reviews and to face success and failure. I love what I made, I'm happy with it.
Let's talk about distribution. You taught many people in the Israeli documentary world that distribution is just as important as the film itself.
This began back with It Kinda Scares Me. The film was finished. I was told that nobody would go to movie theaters to see it. At the Tel Aviv Cinematheque – the only place that agreed to screen the film – they gave me the worst slot, Friday at midnight. They had no idea how many people the film would attract. Despite the fears and worries they planted in me, I felt the film had a sense of youthful energy and manly brotherhood and I believed that the film's strength would awaken when an audience saw it on the big screen. You have to realize, I was a total nobody. I didn't come from Sam Spiegel [film school], or Tel Aviv University, I came out of nowhere. And everyone around me said: Relax, you're over-enthusiastic. Nobody's going to come see that movie. That's when I realized that directors put so much energy into their work that at the most crucial stage they come with their tongues hanging out, depressed after battles with producers and editors. Depressed. Very strong people have reached the finish line completely sapped out. What was the point of the whole thing? Why did I spend three years working on it? Only so people could see it, and I have to take all the energy I put into making the film and find even more energy to begin this new campaign for the film's sake. I did loads of things to make it happen. I asked [singer] Berry Sakharof to play with the kids' band outside the theater at 1:30 in the morning. To play "How Yossi." And I sold t-shirts. And I went to Ofer Nissim, a big club DJ, and asked him to make me a mix from a line from the film – I made a mix from lines from the film. Then I went around to radio DJs asking them to play it, and I worked hard to get people to come. And I did all this with my brother Barak, with one broken-down scooter.
You're willing to spend a whole lot of money.
Yes, you take loans. Show me another production company in the documentary world that takes loans of 100,000 or 150,000 shekels [$50,000] for distribution alone. We're taking a risk here. And if it doesn't work? I'll be paying 200,000 shekels over the next ten years and I'll be a happy man because I tried. That's an experience that doesn't make you bitter. I'll go all the way, and even if I crash, that's how I want to live. All the screenings and the fact that lots of people come to watch the film and react to it and meet me and talk to me about the film – it's a cliché, but that's what keeps me alive.
You know, time passes, it's always knocking at the door, in the end you're dust and ashes and the worms eat you, end of story.
As long as we're delving into your fears, one more question: Was there a particular event in your life that made you so aware of the end, something so immediate that it makes you act, it makes you wake up every morning and try to defeat it?
Yes, I think it was my uncle's death when I was very young. He came to me when he knew he was going to commit suicide a few hours later. He chose to come to me instead of going to work. He wanted to hug me and say goodbye. "I'm leaving this world soon." It was his fiftieth birthday. He had a profound influence on me. I loved him deeply and he loved me and he meant so much to me. He helped me through my roughest times with my family, when I wouldn't talk to them or to myself. He came to me that day and I was embarrassed because he was feminine and at the time nobody knew I was gay. I kept my distance from him. He felt it. And he must have been offended. But he was above that. And he said goodbye to me. What did I know?
That night we'd planned to drive to the country to celebrate his fiftieth birthday. That evening my twin brother and I went to his house but he didn't answer the door. We shouted and then broke in and found him dead. I was afraid to embrace the person who loved me more than anyone else and vice-versa. It tears me apart. I can't made amends for that.
Then I said to myself: I'm not paying the toll for "what will people say?" any more. Not vis-à-vis my family, not even my editors or cameramen. I refuse to hush it up. Sometimes it put me in difficult positions in dealing with the movie theaters and the television channels. At first I fought for my place and the place of my films. I was a young documentarian, but I had to choose: Either I appease the TV channel manager because I need him for my next film, or I forget it and go for cinema. I went for cinema. Much of this obstinacy came from the night when I found my uncle dead on his bed. It still haunts me: Why didn't I hug him? Only because I was afraid what people would say.
And you're still that way now?
Now, in my professional life, I'm more sensitive and delicate. I really appreciate teamwork but I have to remain true to myself.