Israel's First Zombie Movie, Cannon Fodder: "We Tried to Piss Everyone Off"
Tonight at O Cinema Wynwood, the director and star of Cannon Fodder, Israel's first zombie movie, will be hosting a one-off screening of their film weeks before it opens in their home country.
This is why we can't have nice things. Like peace in the Middle East.
"We've shown it at a few festivals in Israel and there were some people who did not get the film at all," director Eitan Gafni tells us. "The were seeing it as a right-wing propaganda film. Which is okay because we really wanted every left-wing person to be pissed off and we we wanted every right-winger person to get pissed off and maybe create a debate. In this film, there's a conscious effort -- well, we tried to piss off everyone, with a smile."
The screening is a joint presentation of the Miami Jewish Film Festival and the Israeli Consulate. Given that support and that much of the budget was provided by government-affiliated film funds, charges of propaganda might not feel so far-fetched when one considers that the film deals with the Israeli army heroically fighting off mindless, subhuman hordes in the borderlands.
"There is no content control of these films," Gafni insists of the projects financed by the Israel government film funds. "It is a government institution but the heads of the funds have total freedom and have nothing to do with the government. You will find that a lot of ministers of this government and the prior -- the education and cultural ministers -- don't like Israeli films and spoke out against both Israeli films that went to the Oscars last year."
Of those two films, Gafni has not seen Five Broken Cameras, a documentary about West Bank violence, but he has seen the other nominee, The Gatekeepers, a documentary about Israel's secret internal security branch.
"It's a masterpiece," he says. "I say that as an Israeli and a filmmaker. A lot of it came from being Israeli and seeing things [in the film] that I had forgotten about or was suppressing because I couldn't deal with it. It was beautiful and it brought me to tears."
Both films are two of the most widely distributed Israeli films of recent years and directly engage the country's conflicted and controversial racial politics. Zombie films are often used as vehicles of social commentary, so it would not be surprising that Cannon Fodder -- and consider the name coming from a country in which collateral damage and civilian casualties have long been a hallmark of the long simmering tensions -- might be less interested in gore and more interested in allegory.
Gafni responds that "In our case, that was not the main goal. We went for it, knowing [that people would be looking for a hidden message], but it's already there because we're in the Middle East."
Well, that and the tagline in the movie's advertising is "There's a New Conflict in the Middle East."
"We used reality as a starting point but then we did whatever we wanted," Gafni says. "We drew from '80s action films and the bad guys were always Russians or Arabs. So we used Hezbollah as our starting point. It's reality, at least in Israel, that everyone knows who Hezbollah is and what Lebanon is. We're not scared of calling them by name."
Like most Israelis, Gafni served in his country's military.
Careful! You could poke your eye out with that thing!
"For three years," he confirms. "And seeing what I've seen and knowing what I know, it wouldn't surprise me what is happening on the borders."
He declined to expand on what that might entail.
"Almost everyone goes to the army," he says. "Our main guy was in the highest infantry unit there is. Roy Miller, who plays the racist Daniel, he was in the equivalent of the Navy SEALs. And while we use military slang and attitude, this is not a reality film in any way. It does not represent the border and what military does on the border. No one goes into Lebanon without a helmet, but we used cliches from action films."
Popcorn films, not politics, are where Gafni claims to source his inspiration. But given the ubiquity of zombies in American film and culture, Gafni agrees that it is a bit surprising that his is Israel's first zombie film.
"Basically," he says, "it's because we're a young country and the movie industry is about 40 years old." In other words, younger than George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Gafni considers himself part of a recent "new wave" of young Israeli filmmakers.
"We're all the same age. Thirty or a bit under, a bit over," he explains. "We're mainly people who grew up in the 1980s on a lot of Spielberg and Lucas. Commercial cinema is what we grew up on and what we want to do. There's a shift change and Cannon Fodder is a part of that."