The Women’s Balcony Interviews with Shlomit Nehama and Emil Ben-Shimon

The #1 film of the year in Israel, "The Women's Balcony" is a heart-warming comedy/drama about community, old traditions and values and the power of women to keep all of these together in the face of modern extremism.The #The #1 film of the year in Israel, "The Women's Balcony" is a heart-warming comedy/drama about community, old traditions and values and the power of women to keep all of these together in the face of modern extremism.1 film of the year in Israel, "The Women's Balcony" is a heart-warming comedy/drama about community, old traditions and values and the power of women to keep all of these together in the face of modern extremism.  A Movie From Menemsha Films.

Click through for our interview with filmmakers Shlomit Nehama and Emil Ben-Shimon.

SELIG FILM NEWS Questionnaire / The Women's Balcony Film Team: Shlomit Nehama and Emil Ben-Shimon
 
1) How much of Shlomit's script is based on a real event(s)?
 
Shlomit:
The community in which I grew up is very reminiscent of the one in the film. The atmosphere, naiveté, mutual help, joie de vivre, all of these I took from that community which unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore. Other than that the story is fiction.
 
2) Being a film about the gender divide in this congregation can you discuss the differences of writing for the female characters compared to the male ones?  
 
Shlomit:
There wasn’t a big difference for me between writing the male or the female parts apart from the need on my behalf to re-write the male parts a few times so they came across more authentic, while the female parts were more natural for me.
 
3) I loved the way the families are split or divided by not only their gender but their devout religious leanings. How hard was it to not lean one way with the film's plot?  I feel like even the Rabbi against the women's idea isn't a villain but trying to do his duties. How have people reacted to this fascinating divide between Orthodox beliefs that are more hardcore than others?  Such a fascinating subject to tackle!
 
Shlomit:
This is indeed a fascinating subject to tackle and it made the writing process quite complicated. It was important for me to say and show that there are many ways to be religious. This is something that was legitimate throughout the history of Judaism. But today in Israel religion is so intertwined with politics that it has become a tool in order to achieve power and control over others. The Orthodox establishment in Israel has no interest in religious diversity and pluralism. This will only weaken them. They prefer to set definite laws and rules, without any room for interpetation or discussion.
 
4) So much of the talent is TV based and Emil's background is also on the small screen.  Can you discuss the impact Israeli TV has on the film industry in the country.  Is the transition smooth and easy?
 
Emil:
When I was working in TV, I got a lot of experience working with actors. There is not a lot of difference between acting for TV or Film. I think in Cinema the search is for a more minimalistic style of acting. In TV on the other hand you get to have less artistic freedom. There are more restrictions due to advertising and ratings. In Cinema it is different and you can bring your vision more easily. I think that subconsciously I wanted actors that will do their first move from TV to cinema with me so that I will not be the only one.
 
5) I love Ziv Berkovich's subtle cinematography for the film.  Can you share the look you were going for and also what specific sequences were the most challenging to shoot.  Especially can you discuss the actual Balcony falling sequence and what all went into that harrowing scene.  What camera did you shoot on?
 
Emil:
The film was shot on Alexa equipment. When preparing for the film I knew I wanted the look of the film to be very precise. I wanted to create a look of a fable/legend so there will be no cars and no smartphones in it. Ziv and I researched impressionistic paintings but also the final palette was influenced by the colours I found while endlessly touring old synagogues and neighbourhoods in Jerusalem. We were searching also for a synagogue where we can perform the stunt of the balcony falling. This was very hard.  We finally ended up in an old synagogue in Tel Aviv that was bound for demolition. The people praying there loved our set so much that they continued to pray there although it became a movie set. For the scene of the balcony falling we built an elevator which held 10 stuntmen dressed up as women. When the signal was given, the elevator broke a plastered wall we built there and the stuntmen flew all over. We were all full of fear before the scene was shot. None of us had done such a stunt before.
 
6) What a fantastic cast, who was first on board for the film?  The amazing battles between Orna's and Evelin's characters are so powerful.  Can you talk about writing a story that captures the "judgemental" nature showcased and how do you see this reflected in Israeli culture today.
 
Emil:
It was a huge challenge to cast this film, and I personally love every player who helped to tell this story.  Evelyn Hgoel was the first to board.
 
7) The clash between technology and religion seems like a massive one in the film and in the real Jewish world.  I love the scene of the little boy turning on and off the switch and how this causes a huge issue.  The same issue happens at the dinner with the younger Rabbi and the lights going out.  Was this technology vs religion battle something always in the script and plot?
 
Shlomit:
I’m happy you noticed this. The clash between technology and religion. For many Israelis and especially religious people this is an obvious conflict since you are not supposed to turn electricity on during Shabbat or holidays but you can through a non Jewish person. the fact Tikva is suggesting the kid to turn it on shows her flexibility as a non rigid religious person in the beginning of the film. I used it to show that on one hand these people are more flexible and on the other hand they are trying to keep traditions of old times that might disappear with the next generation.
 
8) Even though this is an obvious Jewish film, I feel like most religions easily could pull off this great plot.  Can you talk about the film being universal, even though it's so rich with Jewish nuance and history.   
 
Shlomit:
I think that beyond the small nuances this is a universal story that can match any religion. All religions face the same ingredients nowadays: extremism and the manipulative use of religion in order to control people. This was not invented by the Jewish religion.
 
9) What is the most satisfying or memorable day of the shoot?
 
Emil:
There were many unforgettable moments. A special one was the wedding in the end. We didn’t have time to shoot it and we couldn’t afford many takes so I stood in the place the cantor stands and I lectured to everyone how this is the moment the community is getting together again and I’d like to have everyone very happy because we can only shoot once. Everyone identified and celebrated and I’m very happy with the outcome.
 
10) What is next for everyone?
Shlomit:
I am cautiously writing a new script….
 
Thanks to Shlomit and Emil for the wonderful response and making such a quality film.