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AN INTERVIEW WITH DANI MENKIN,
DIRECTOR OF THE NEW FILM, IS THAT YOU?
by Esther Cohen
IS THAT YOU?, a new film by award-winning Israeli director Dani Menkin, tells the story of an appealing 60-year-old man named Ronnie who has lost his long-time job as a film projectionist. As a parting gift, he receives a ticket to the United States, where his brother, a crazy, loud, successful car salesman, lives with his wife and son. Ronnie decides to find his true love from nearly 40 years before, an American woman named Rachel. The film’s title comes from the many letters Ronnie writes to Rachel, letters she never receives. He begins them with the words: “IS THAT YOU?”
On the road to find Rachel, he meets Myla, a young filmmaker who is shooting a documentary on regrets. Ronnie himself is full of regrets, especially about Rachel. One of the best surprises about this charming film are the many people interspersed throughout the narrative who speak of their regrets.
Jewish Currents: Tell us why you wanted to make a film about regrets.
Dani Menkin: I turned 40 and started to ask myself about my own Road Not Taken. I first thought of writing it about a man my age and then realized that 60 is the new 40 and wrote the main character to be an older man. And I was lucky to have renowned Israeli actor, Alon Aboutboul (London Has Fallen, Dark Knight Rises), as the lead in my film.
JC: Were there any regrets you chose not to show?
Yes, we had interviewed more people who discussed their regrets. I found out that many of the actors loved also sharing their own regrets and the documentary filmmaker in me enjoyed incorporating it into Is That You?
JC: Why did you choose the dramatic form instead of a documentary?
I love going back and forth in my work between fiction and the documentary world, and found that this film was a perfect fit for me to play with both worlds. In our new film era, I believe the borders between documentary and fiction are fading.
JC: Did you find that regrets are universal and not tied to specific countries? Are regrets in Israel different?
Regrets are definitely universal. I believe that is why this film is so well received outside of Israel... it has a universal theme. The question of “what would have happened if” is something Eshkol Nevo (my co-writer) and myself loved playing with during the process of writing Is That You?
JC: Was the protagonist’s brother (a wonderful, believable character) typical of society as a whole, in that he believed he had no regrets?
He [was played by] a wonderful director named Rani Blair. He fit perfectly the personality type of Alon Aboutboul’s brother and did it with great humor because of who he is. I don’t think his character is typical of anything.
JC [SPOILER ALERT!]: Should the viewer believe the filmmaker, Myla, and the hero, Ronnie, get together after Rachel dies?
I leave this to the viewers to decide.
JC: What are your regrets?
I wanted to be a professional athlete and thought I’d do great at that. I compensated for some of that regret by making Is That You? and my new film, On The Map, about an Israeli basketball team that beat the Russians during the Cold War (this film will be out in theaters in November/December 2016).
About the director: Dani Menkin is an Israeli filmmaker and winner of the Israeli Academy Award for Best Documentary for his film 39 POUNDS OF LOVE - the film, written, produced and directed by Dani, has been sold to HBO and was short-listed for the Oscars. His award-winning film, DOLPHIN BOY, was sold to over 20 countries around the world, and was recently bought by Disney for adaption. Dani’s latest documentary, ON THE MAP, tells the story of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team and its road to winning the European Cup Basketball Championship.
Esther Cohen, our interviewer, is the arts and events consultant for Jewish Currents.