Interview with director Tomer Heymann
MR. GAGA is a love poem for dance. I discovered this world at the age of 21, when I moved from my small village to the big city and witnessed a dance performance for the first time in my life. The moment I came across Ohad's creation was a constitutive moment in my life. This man inspired me as a person and as an artist and since then I have been following his art for 25 years.
Can you briefly describe what your documentary is about and how you got interested in the subject?
Was it clear from the beginning that you want to make a documentary rather than a fiction feature?
Ohad Naharin's story is so unique and surprising that it could have been easily written as a fiction film. But what fascinated me most and made me believe in this film through the eight years of its making is the fact that it's a true story of someone who is close to me and I had the privilege to watch him grow as an artist. This is a documentary film that uses fiction film language.
How did you develop the concept and the style of the film? And how did you get Ohad Naharin to agree to your filming?
It took me many years to understand what would be the suitable concept and style for this film. I asked myself how one can create a new language about dance that will offer the viewer a fresh, different gaze. Together with my cinematographer Itai Raziel I learned how to work with this challenge. For instance, we chose to shoot from angles in which a normal viewer would not be able to stand. We took the liberty to re-construct Ohad's choreography in the process of shooting and editing – we were committed to finding a new language for the film rather than showing the original choreography.
Unlike my recent films, I edited MR. GAGA with three different editors: one managed the archival, chronological aspect, the second dealt with the visual aspect and the third worked on the narrative aspect. In the final stage of editing, I decided to mix up all the material I had and to disrupt the timeline, out of respect for my viewers, counting on them to be able to complete the story on their own.
It was quite hard to convince Ohad to go along with this film – he was already a 56-year-old-man who constantly refused to let anyone inside his creative process. He was also against the documentary act since he felt it contradicts the beauty of dancing: its disappearance.
I came to this film like an adventure, open-minded, searching the right expression, and that made Ohad accept this challenge, too: learning how to let go and letting someone in his world, knowing that his story will be told from someone else's point of view. The fact that this film took so many years contributed to my relationship with him, making him trusting me more and more.
How detailed was the script before shooting?
There was no script but only great passion and a somewhat amorphic vision about this story's potential. In fact, we started shooting without knowing when we will wrap, so the script was actually written in the editing room, where we found the story's core by sorting out and picking shots out of more than 1,000 hours of footage.
What was the biggest challenge in making your film?
The biggest challenge was convincing Ohad to let us into his most sacred place - Bat Sheva's rehearsal room, where no one is allowed to enter besides the dancers. Then, my challenge was to capture these moments in which you can feel the artist is forming his art, trying to convey the special dialogue between the choreographer and his dancers using the cinematic language.
Another big challenge was dealing with the financial aspect of a documentary that, throughout the eight years of its making, has no clear finishing line.
In recent years the borders between documentary and fiction have blurred. What do you think of this development and where do you see yourself in this development?
The influence of documentary language on fiction films and vice versa is fascinating in my mind and leads to a much more interesting filmmaking that is constantly trying to articulate itself. I personally feel this fusion enriches me and the transition to making fiction films is quite appealing to me.
MR. GAGA is an interesting case study in which I use a fiction film structure to tell a true story, a documentary, by manipulating the audience's mind when revealing at the end of the movie the lie that was told in its beginning, which brings up questions of truth in life and in cinema.