“White Eye” is on the Oscar shortlist for a Best Live Action Short nomination, an outcome that its writer and director Tomer Shushan could not have anticipated when he was entering the finished film to festivals two years ago. He explains in his exclusive interview with Gold Derby (watch the video above), “Because it’s a short film, the only place that you can screen it and present it is mostly in film festivals, so for one year, I just got negative answers and the film didn’t go nowhere, so I thought it was a big failure and I was a bit upset about it.”
His solution was to remove the first four minutes of the film; the remaining 20 minutes then screened at the 2020 South by Southwest Film Festival, where it was awarded Best Narrative Short. “Then the film started to go to lots of film festivals,” recounts Shushan, who admits that the film’s subject matter became more resonant opposite the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. “White Eye” takes place in real time and was shot as an uninterrupted take. Shushan calls the original opening “peaceful,” which was at odds with “the tension that was building very precisely in the 20 minutes after.” He admits that “it could feel like two films” and that “it was four long minutes that nothing really happened.”
The production process made for just as unlikely a success story. Shushan explains, “It’s a really hard story because I knew I wanted to do it in one shot and because it’s my first independent film after film school, lots of people around me tried to back me off from this idea.” He conceded and rewrote his script to be a traditionally-cut film. “We had money to make two shooting days and after one day, I started to edit it,” recounts Shushan. He says about how he reacted to the footage, “It’s not what I expected. It’s not the film that I imagined as a director and as a storyteller and I told everyone that shooting for tomorrow is cancelled. I need to think what I’m going to do.”
Production paused for seven months as Shushan planned how to use the remaining half of his budget to shoot the original vision of his film. He reflects, “If you want to make a film, you have to collect the right group of people — people who believe in you.” Shushan replaced most of his cast and crew, outside of producer/editor Shira Hochman, cinematographer Saar Mizrahi and first-time actor Dawit Tekleab in the role of an illegal immigrant. He concludes, “I can say that I’m super happy that I went with my inner feelings and with my intuition and I didn’t let — at the end — the fears control me.”
“White Eye” is currently available free to watch online. The Israeli film in Hebrew is based on a personal experience of Tomer Shushan, hence the similarly-named protagonist Omer. Shushan says that the title symbolizes blindness. He relates it to Omer, “He’s blind and his vision is coming back when he sees that his actions can cause harm to someone and also, this whole film happens from a white person’s eyes, so those were the two main reasons I chose to call this film that. These are the main issues — blindness and how the western world looks at and behaves with refugees and immigrants.”
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