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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter


by writer/director Samuel Maoz

When I was in first grade, my teacher wrote on the board: It is good to die for our country. I remember a story they told us about one of the school’s graduates, a soldier named Ilan who threw himself on a grenade. Every year at the Memorial Day ceremony, they told us his story. The story of how he sacrificed himself to save six soldiers. Occasionally, before I fall asleep, I imagine myself being Ilan. I fantasize that it was I who threw himself on this grenade and died heroically, and every year, at the Memorial Day ceremony, it is my story being told and people are shedding tears for me.

My generation is the second generation of Holocaust survivors. Our parents used to wave with the numbers on their arms and shout all day long that they survived the Holocaust. They would tell us that we were blessed children who grew up in a sunny and beautiful country with a nice blue sea and piles of oranges. Who were we to ever complain? Thus, we could not really complain about anything. When I came back from the war with two hands, two legs, ten fingers, and without a single burn mark on my skin, any complaints were simply unacceptable. Be a man! Overcome! We survived the Holocaust!

The first feature film I made was Lebanon. It was based on my true personal story depicting my experiences with war as a tank gunner. It was also from my emotional point of view, as a 20-year-old who had never been involved in any acts of violence and then one morning found himself killing people. It wasn’t a choice, nor a response to an order given to me. It was only my survival instinct, an animal instinct that grabs a man when facing death, his own death. But I was there… and that alone was enough to make me feel responsible. I had feelings of guilt and suffered from silent post-traumatic stress. But I went on through life as not the clichéd image of the post-traumatic man. I functioned, worked hard and remained social. I had a family. I was not depressed on the exterior. In fact, I was quite the opposite. I was optimistic and I didn’t suffer nightmares. This tricky quiet trauma knocked me out of my life for many years. Because of this trauma, I made my first film at the age of 46 rather than 30.

In Lebanon, I talked about myself. After the film came out, however, I realized that I was not alone. I found out that Israeli society produces many people just like me. Too many.... And suddenly I understood why we, Israeli society, behave as we do. My simple and complex answer was that we are a traumatic society. Our emotional memory of our past traumas, the peak of which was the Holocaust followed by our survival wars, is stronger than any current reality and logic. The trauma passes from generation to generation and is based on the determination that we are in constant existential danger. As a result, we are in an ongoing war. Our existential danger has long since passed. A technological country with nuclear weapons is not in existential danger. Our enemies are no longer relevant, and occupation is not a state of war. Despite this reality, we recently preferred to buy three expensive submarines instead of feeding a million hungry children and half a million elderly people (some of which are Holocaust survivors).

In Lebanon, I talked about real-time trauma. Foxtrot deals with the post trauma. In Foxtrot, I added an additional layer. I wanted to tell a personal story that reflects the collective. From a wider perspective, I can say that Foxtrot deals with the bleeding wound, or soul, of the Israeli society. With the traumatic circle we are trapped in, we dance the foxtrot. Every generation tries to dance it differently, but like the foxtrot’s steps, we always end at the same starting point.

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