Posts Tagged ‘mr x’


„I hope that the esthetics of my film will create a counter-representation of the migrants” – Interview with Tami Liberman

7 noiembrie 2015

One of the great people I met in Sibiu, at Astra Film Festival was Tami Liberman, an Israeli film-maker now living in Tel Aviv. Back in 2014 she was studying in Berlin where she made Napps – Memoir of an invisible man a documentary medium-length film which I think it lays somewhere between fiction and essay. Starting from here we got to talk about migrants, Israeli policy on the matter vs. European/German one and her perspectives in film industry.


Your film was part of the student competition. It was done while you were studying in Germany, In Berlin. Did you studied film or visual anthropology?

It was a master degree in visual and media anthropology in Freie Universität. But my BA is in film, from Tel Aviv University.

What made you decide to choose this subject? Was it something you were working with before?

Actually there was no initial plan to make a movie about this theme. What happened was that I wanted to make a film about a completely other subject that would have something to do with the film I made previously – and that was about virtual homes and virtual reality. But I wanted to continue with the idea, to explore what a home is. So I walked around and looked for people that would agree to talk about it and with those that challenged the concept of home. So talking with migrants was something that I was interested in.

Because these people are not “home” anymore?

The issue of home starts to have different meanings, no doubt. And I talked to two or three guys in one of the central parks in Berlin where a lot of migrants hang out. And I think the third guy I talked with was the protagonist of my film, Mr. X. It was an immediate click, he said “Oh, I would love to talk about a project on any subject. I worked as a journalist and I’m interested in photography”. We’ve decided to make for coffee and we did, so while talking suddenly I’ve realized what his political status was and I’ve asked him “Wait, so can I show your face in the film?” and he was “No, actually I can’t, I’m sorry”. Out of that it came the idea, “then just stand behind it” and he was ok. It basically came out of the constraint itself.

I was thinking that if you wouldn’t have this constraint, there wouldn’t be any talk about your film that is a documentary which looks like a fiction. So, when you realized you couldn’t show his face, did that bothered you in a way?

The limitation was space for creativity, that’s how I felt it. And that kept the idea flowing and that turned it into a potential film. It gave its esthetic, it gave the methodology and it also gave its theme. Because I think that the film itself doesn’t deal with the details of the political situation or the political status, it deals with representation, with visual representation. A lot of questions that are reason within the film deal with that issue, with that angle of the migration – the politics of representation and the cultural experience that they impose on the people that don’t have the same rights as citizens of a certain nation/state.

This subject is very hot right now, everybody’s talking about it. In choosing it for your film did you also thought about the refuges situation? Choosing the subject was, in some way, a “marketing” decision maybe? I’m trying to understand your decisions as a director, besides what you already told me. Do you use to think about what’s “hot” in the press before starting a project?

Not in any way, no. It came disturbingly organic. I say “disturbing” because of how unfortunate it was that the idea came out of this constraint. I wasn’t an opportunist jumping in to this and saying “Hey, that will sell!”. I also think that is visually challenging and I didn’t thought that it would be a film that would sell, not necessarily.

In that case, what are your expectations with the film right now? Do you think it has a place in the festivals? Or do you think it has a certain role in solving something?

First of all, I’m completely aware of the limitations of this art, especially when you have this kind of activist approach. My wish is that it would reach some people that would find themselves raising new questions about this issue. And maybe seeing it from another perspective. Festivals are a great way to have films circulate especially when the person himself can’t. I also gave talks and lectured about the film – which I’d say, I as its creator, I gain more than the people that need to, because usually when you bring it to this kind of academic audience it kinda stays in within the academic discourse. Which is great, but also it might not be communicated to the people that must be communicated to.

So another thing that I wish to do right now is to have it screened publicly in Israel. I don’t know if it would work, I doubt it that it will be any organization that would take it on but I kinda hope to. But I ought to have some sort of public screenings with the refugee community in Israel. It’s something I started to work on.


It’s good that you brought this up, because I don’t have much information about what’s going on with the refugees in the Israel, but I’m curious: is it the same as in Europe now or they’re applying in Israel for a work permit?

The situation is definitely not working ok. What’s happening in Israel is that we’re having approximately 45.000 asylum seekers coming from Eritrea and Sudan, they were more but a lot left.

All of them are Muslim?

The Eritrean are Christians, the Sudanese are much less, they’re mostly Muslim. They came through the southern border, the one with Egypt, and that was closed so the flow would stop. I won’t go through the whole process because they were given a temporarily working permit that allowed them to work, then it didn’t allowed them – it’s that kind of ridiculous. But a lot of them started to work in the social work sphere – like hotels, restaurants. A lot of them were also moved by the authorities to the southern part of Tel Aviv where the residents were not very happy about this decision – and I don’t blame them, it’s a complete failure of the authorities bringing a bunch of unemployed people that are very frustrated to be in a liminal state where they’re not accepted by the new culture and they also can’t go back home because of the horrendous political situation there. And since there was this frustration rising among the Israeli people there was a detention center that was built in the South part of Israel, in the desert, where 2000 refugees where brought.

So they’re actually imprisoned?

Well, the authorities would say “No, they’re not imprisoned, all they have to do is to sign once a day – it used to be twice a day – it’s just a digital signing” but basically they’re in the middle of the desert, the closest town is an hour away, and they have to sleep there, they have to spend the night, and the people that keep them in work as prison guards, that’s their official job. So it depends as you want to see it, but what is definite is that their asylum requests are not being processed. There are only four people so far that received a refugee statute.

For how long?

They started coming in 2006.

So in almost ten years only four people were officially recognized as asylum seekers or got to be integrated.

Yes! There is this kind of deal they’re offered, which is to leave willingly. Which of course we can argue about: it’s their choice, but it’s their choice after they were kept in a detention center. First they were told that it’s going to be for a few months, then 9 months, then a year and a half – it’s a situation that is not solved in any way and a policy that is not being changed so a lot of them choose to take the money that were offered by the government and then to leave to what is called “a third country”, to Uganda or Rwanda.

So back to Africa.

Yes, back to Africa, but not their home countries. The problem is that a lot of them get there with an Israeli permit, some sort of an agreement that they will have Israeli papers that is worthless there so they’re back again where they’ve started and many try to go to Europe this time.

Considering what you’ve just said do you think that the situation in Europe is a bit different than in Israel?

Israel is, with its policy, another part in an international network of indifference and neglect towards refugees, along with Australia, rich countries like Saudi Arabia and the Emirates that take in virtually no refugees, European countries with no-refugee policies like Hungary and others. So, if you ask me about Europe, it really depends on what country you’re talking about. Germany really opened the gates and it’s the European country that receives most of the refugees specifically from Syria. They also made a change in what’s called “The Dublin Regulation”, the agreement that most of the countries within the EU and Schengen alliance, which basically says that one person that sought asylum in one country cannot seek asylum or go to work in another country in the EU. So what Germany did was to offer an exception for the Syrian refugees so they could still seek asylum in Germany even if they did already in other countries, and that’s quite unique. But it’s true that opening the gates there doesn’t bring the same numbers of refugees that get to Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan so they’re not getting that much of the total and also I think that they’re starting to freak out because the numbers are raising. First they said they would get 800.000 people and now it looks like they would get 1m and a half and also Angela Merkel is getting a lot of heat because of this and it looks like she’s losing support and votes in all sorts of poles. It’s interesting to see what is going to happen but what is clear is that Germany won’t be able to keep on with this kind of acts alone.

I think a possible explanation why they’re taking a lot of people is because of their past but I also believe that the demographics of Germany are in trouble. The population is falling in numbers and they need migrants! It’s not mentioned that much, but it’s definitely one of the reasons.


Photostill from Napps – Memoire of an invisible man

Now, you moved back to Israel, your home country. Will you keep making movies there?

Definitely yes. Right now, the money are not coming from film-making but they come from editing, I work as an editor. I also teach and I’m slowly developing more and more projects while getting used to be back in Israel.

Are you more interested in documentary than fiction?

As it’s hard for me to label this film as documentary, I think working with video materials or visual representations would be more appropriate.

I’m still curious to find out, though, about your experience not as a migrant but rather as an expat in Germany. I’m thinking that your experience doesn’t resemble the one Mr. X is living right now. Do you feel any compassion for his story when comparing your experience to his? Also I would like to find out why did you decided to move back to Israel.

First of all, I’m always reluctant to compare my “travel” to his, because I think I was the most privileged traveler ever. I entered in Europe with my European (Belgian) passport because I have relatives there from my mother’s side; I had no problems in getting a job, or showing my face – so, being visualized in any other way. Also, being white I never had to protect myself of any stereotype and there are things I cannot, in any way, claim to experience similar to Mr. X.

But yes, there is definitely some sort of compassion that came not only from meeting someone that is so warm and so open to dialogue but also because of this search of a home. That I guess that on a more subconscious level was very present in my experience that probably made me to identify to his experience at some extent.

I decided to go back to Israel probably from the same reasons he would decide to go back, though he can’t – because of the family, I miss my family, I miss my friends. At some extent – although I have some issues with it – I miss my culture.

I’m also thinking about your unnamed character, he might be the refugee by definition. He has his hopes and dreams, but somehow he’s lost in queue, where he’s waiting and waiting. But somehow your film shows not the desperation, but the hope of this character and there’s a positive vibe being transmitted. Is this whole perception something specific to your character or it was your personal touch?

It was definitely specific to him. I can’t really say that I had a plan ahead about what kind of character I would like to have on screen, it really came out of the dialogue with him and I’m really glad that came out. Victimizing him in the film would’ve been a disaster because this kind of representation would not be new. A lot of representation we get in the media is the flow of this people into Europe. So it’s a vast demographic threat. Even the images we get, the kid on the Turkish shore for example – it’s the exact representation that the Western media would like to have. You don’t see his face like there’s no specific individual, completely hopeless and, it’s savvy that I’m saying this, the viewer’s expression when he sees that is “My God, the horror!” but since he’s deceased, well, there’s nothing we can do. It just leaves us with the reaction “Oh, dear! Oh, the tragedy!”

Just an emotional reaction.

But we’re not moved in any way to see the people differently or to change the policy in any way. But lately this situation is being broken because we also have the other famous image of the father holding his child while being in a boat. And you see that he has this nice watch on his hand, and it’s quite clear he’s a middle class man – ‘cause no poor guy would have the money to pay the smugglers and reach to Europe. I’ve read a description made by a person that was looking at the Macedonian-Serbian path and he said that these people look like hipsters! Really, they have nose rings and they look really cool. And that’s definitely not something you would expect out of the general image of a refugee, it really subverts the expectations. And I was happy to have something like this, because my character also subverts the expectations as well. Also I hope that the esthetics of the film creates this counter-representation of what used to be showed up by the media in the past, let’s say 10 years ago.

All this counter-representation and the esthetics of your film – are they being recognized by the spectators as well?

I’d say that I got diverse reactions and by some of the spectators it was. At Achtung Berlin Festival where I got an award, the explanation of the award got exactly that: “The way the absence of the protagonist challenges the way we perceive the representation of the whole reality. What we perceived as an entire reality, well suddenly there’s something absent there. The absence is marked.” And I was appreciating that on the behalf of the judges (laughs).