Interview with Big Bad Wolves director Aharon Keshales

Aharon-KeshalesMake no mistake Big Bad Wolves is one of the best film of 2013 and not just because Quentin “hire a poster quote” Tarantino says so but because its true. Tense, thrilling, exciting and engaging it is a tour de force of film making that transcends genre’s packed to the roof with power house performances.

We where lucky enough to talk to director and writer Aharon Keshales who was over for FrightFest 2013 with partner in cinematic crime Navot Papushado to close the festival. And close it they did with Big Bad Wolves blowing the house down selling out the massive Screen 1 of Empire Leicester Square a fitting and deserved tribute to such an amazing movie which is out with a limited release right now.

Love Horror: What do you think of the FrightFest so far?

Aharon Keshales: The atmosphere is amazing. We are showing in a screen for, what a thousand people, something near to that. The audience size is so big here. In Israel 300 would be good. I’m very proud, its a good thing to be able to tell people back home.

Love Horror: Are you staying in London?

Aharon Keshales: Yes very near. We came two years ago and had to travel everywhere by tube but now just walk out and straight on the Leicester Square, so that’s just WOW. It’s like a dream.

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Love Horror: Three years ago was when you showed rabies here. How did you go from that all out horror to Big Bad Wolves which is a crime thriller infused with jet black comedy?

Aharon Keshales: At first we wanted to do the first ever horror film in Israel. We were ambitious and eager enough to think this will only mean goods things. But when you think about it (points to Spiderman t-shirt he is wearing) “with great power comes great responsibility” It was frustrating as there is so much responsibility that goes along with that. If it’s bad we’re burying the genre in Israel for twenty years. We wanted to do a horror film but do it well with new ideas, then we went on to do the second.

Love Horror: Between making Rabies and Big Bad Wolves has the film landscape in Israel changed?fgggffg

Aharon Keshales: Yes definitely. Since the success of Rabies going internationally we’ve been to more than 70 festivals not all just genre film festivals but Tribeca to Stockholm to Edinburgh. Lots of young film festivals and not just stuck in Jewish festivals. It was such a revelation for Israel to acknowledge genre movies. It was like they suddenly realized “wait we can make films to entertain audiences, who’ll buy popcorn and drink coke and be accepted by the world, it doesn’t have to be political!”

Of course Rabies was made on a shoe string budget so financially it also made good sense. It still a work in process but the can see the winds of change. Now after Big Bad Wolves it’s quite overwhelming we’ve really the heart of the establishment and we have been nominated for 11 Israel academy awards this year. With Rabies it was 1 for Make Up as they didn’t really know what to do with it. We didn’t fit into a category. Now two years later 11 nominations, the establishment and critics love the Big Bad Wolves. We are now number 1 on the critics table, first time for an Israeli film. We beat the re-release of Jurassic Park, they were number one now we are, it’s a great achievement for us.

Love Horror: Indeed it is and also we are seeing a lot more Israeli horror like Cannon Fodder which is also here at FrightFest this year.

Aharon Keshales: Yes Eitan (Gafny the director and writer) was my student

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Love Horror: I really enjoyed Cannon Fodder it was a great new take on Zombies. Do you find that a lot of aspiring Israeli directors and writers want to follow in your blood sodden footsteps?

Aharon Keshales: I notice as a film lecturer at a film university that a lot of people dream of becoming the next Steven Spielberg or John Carpenter. When they leave school then they change their minds and only want to make art house films that will get into Cannes film festival. Those films have a place and I love them but why once they leave school do they forget the reason they wanted to study film in the first place? Nobody does horror, or Sci-Fi in Israel just domestic dramas about dysfunctional families. Perhaps the environment within Israel makes them drop their dreams. Once I noticed it was happening to my students I tried to encourage them to do whatever they want.

Eitan was my student, he is a sick bastard. So when he gave in his short script the university who are all very serious people said “no make something more political or that will resonate with the festivals.” I said to him you can do whatever you want. I think if you get more lectures and teachers who are a little crazy themselves you’ll get a balance between arty farty and genre films that would make for a healthy industry. For years Israel only did art house films and now it’s changing.

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Love Horror: Do you think it’s ironic that within your film you do manage to deal with Israel’s major political, religious and cultural matters but it’s all still wrapped up in an entertaining and thrilling genre film?

Aharon Keshales: I think with Israel because we live in such a serious place they get a sense of self-importance with the things we deal with. They need everything clearly stated. I believe you don’t have to be serious to talk about serious thing. You can do it with a wink of the eye or a genre piece and still say something about the place you are living in. In Big Bad Wolves you can see motives of torturing, a male dominated society and other things beside but we just don’t shove it in your face. That’s the type of films the US did is the 70’s, they said a lot about America without saying we are talking about America. Romero, what he did in Dawn of the Dead about the consumer society is really fun but not in your face.

fgdfgLove Horror: You do that amazingly well in Big Bad Wolves. I love the character of the man on his horse and the scenes he has with the main characters which are really about the innate racism running through the culture of the country. Those small moments make you think but if you don’t want to think you don’t have to.

Aharon Keshales: We grow up in Israel with our legacy of Jewish people it’s in our nature it’s in our blood, it will eventually find a way into speech. You don’t have to push it, it will be there whether you want it or not. It’s part of us, our DNA. When you watch a film from the UK you can see their humor. Ben Wheatley’s Kill Lists or Sightseers you see Britain inside of it. It doesn’t have to say “I’m British!” It’s the environment when you see a Mike Lee film you get a sense of what it is to be British. When you see an Israel film you see what it is to be an Israeli.

Love Horror: How did you come up with the idea for Big Bad Wolves?

Aharon Keshales: I think you always have ideas in the back your head. It wasn’t until we came out of the screening for I Saw the Devil and then everything just fell into place. Then it just became our main focus and we knew what we wanted to do. It starts as a portrait of an alleged serial killer and we just wanted to concentrate on that with a character who is seen as the devil by the community around him. Then everything came together and I wanted to do a Dirty Harry style of encounter, and a vindictive father, and eventually they were all mixed together.

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Love Horror: Apart from I Saw The Devil, were there any other influences on the film?

Aharon Keshales: When we wrote it down I had always dreamt of doing something like Steven Spielberg did with Jaws. Everybody thinks about the shark, I think it’s more about a beautiful drama about guys. Three guys on a boat each representing a different type of male personality. That’s the film, not the shark. When we were writing Big Bad Wolves, it was “let’s put three males in a room and let them sort it out.” We don’t have shark but we have an pedophile instead . Another example would be The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, each one representing a different morality but at the end they are all bad, all mean and all monsters. The good guy is actually one of the meanest characters you will ever see. Fargo by the Cohen Brothers was an influence as well.

Love Horror: It’s interesting you mention Jaws as there is a definite parallel with the paranoia and chaos the shark brings to the island and the outrage and media frenzy around pedophiles in the movie and in real life. The world crumbles around the accused teacher as the island did around the appearance of the shark.

Aharon Keshales: I think Jaws is Spielberg’s best work to date I really love this film. I think the way a director can get the best out of his actors is to put yourself in a cage with 3 actors and work out a way of making it interesting with their performance and camera work. As a director that’s the best exercise you can do for yourself

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Love Horror: How did you cast the three main actors? They are all amazing in different ways and all wonderful subtle performances.

Aharon Keshales: We actually always write for our actors. Lior Ashkenazi whom play’s Micki he was with us when we were touring with Rabies. One day he grabs me on the street and said “enough already, stop all these festivals and touring and write me another part!” We listen to him because he is a scary guy. We wrote his part, we also knew we wanted to work with Tzahi Grad as he is one of Israel best dramatic actors. Although he’s never played this type of character before. As for Rotem Keinan we wanted a fresh face to play the accused child killer, like how they used Kevin Spacey in the Usual Suspects.

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Love Horror: Well Big Bad Wolves is a spectacular movie and I hope it gets the praise and audiences it deserves when it finally gets released in cinemas. What next coming up?

Aharon Keshales: We have a chapter in The ABC’s of Death 2 coming shortly, we have a deadline on that coming up.

Love Horror: Can you say what letter you have?

Aharon Keshales: No they do allow us to do that. Also we have a script called Once a Upon a Time in Palestine it’s a spaghetti western set in the British occupation during the 40’s, where we were the terrorists

Love Horror: So it’s going a completely different genre again then?

Aharon Keshales: Yes but it will still be bloody. We want to play with every genre, tests the limits of them all to see what we can achieve. We feel obligated to the Israel audience to give them a western because there isn’t a western from Israel.

Love Horror: Well if anyone can do it it’s you. Aharon Keshales thank you.

Aharon Keshales: Thanks, my pleasure.

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Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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