Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
A few months ago, as I was at a coffee shop waiting for my drink to be made, I came across an article written in the Los Angeles Downtown News that caught my eye. It was about LAPD Central Area Senior Lead Officer Deon Joseph, and the work he does in the Skid Row community. Skid Row, officially known as Central City East, is an area in Downtown Los Angeles, and contains one of the largest populations of homeless persons in the United States. Los Angeles Downtown News Staff Writer Ryan Vaillancourt did a really good job of portraying Officer Deon Joseph as having a lot of heart, faith, and bravery, as he serves his duty facing an incredibly tough community. The article mentioned that officer Joseph helps to lead monthly skid row walks. I wrote Vaillancourt, thanking him for writing such a touching article, and also asked him how I could find out more about the walk. He sent me the details of when and where the walks were held, and I decided that I really wanted to make the experience happen. I wanted to attend one so that I could gain awareness about LA’s Skid Row community, which I felt would be invaluable and necessary to have, especially as someone studying to become a social worker.
This past Wednesday, my dear friend Michael Jeffreys and I met up to ride together to the Midnight Mission, which is where the people attending the monthly walk meet up. The Midnight Mission is a human services organization in downtown, Los Angeles’ skid row. My friend and I parked in the lot underneath the Midnight Mission, and as we walked out of the elevator and into the main building, we found ourselves entering into a very raw reality. We walked towards the front of the building, and had to cross through the courtyard to catch up with the group. There were around fifty people, whom I’m assuming were all homeless, who were laying and sitting on the ground, seeking refuge behind the gates. It was an intense reality to face, as I looked around and saw many tired and lost faces, who were holding onto their minimal possessions. As I passed through, I did not want to stare and potentially make them feel as though they were being gawked at, and so I carried myself in a way that was calm and collected. When we passed through the gate and got to the sidewalk, we walked directly into a protest that was going on, led by an organization that was there to protest the walk. I saw a sign that said, “Take your intervention somewhere else,” which they kept yelling repeatedly. The walk has been going on for six years, and up until five months ago, the organization has come to protest every month. I had no idea what to think or what was going on. I was feeling sensory overload though, with all the intensity. There were about five police officers there to accompany the walk, and so I felt protected. Despite all the yelling, the officers kept calm as they made sure the protest didn’t get too chaotic. One of the officers caught my attention because amidst the clamor, he appeared to be very calm and deep in thought. Moments later I realized that it was Officer Joseph, whom I had read the article about in the coffee shop. I went up and introduced myself to him and told him that I was there because of the article I had read. He instantly welcomed me and let me know that he was there to answer any of my questions. I could tell off the bat that he was a kind man. With everything going on, the walk began to move forward, as the protest trailed behind us with their drums, signage and yelling.
As we walked down the street there were a couple of homeless people lying on the sidewalk. The police officers accompanying us told them that they had to move. During the day, homeless individuals are prohibited from sleeping on the sidewalk, and are arrested by the police if they are found doing so. They are only permitted to sleep on the streets between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. The idea is to keep the sidewalks clear of crime, violence and drug abuse throughout the day. The Central City East Association (CCEA) leads the walks. On their website, it says “CCEA is working closely with Council member Jan Perry, The City Attorney, Skid Row residents, LAPD, state and county legislators, service providers and a multitude of other stakeholders to affect positive policy changes for our community. Our monthly walks have successfully garnered the attention of federal, state, county and city legislators who are all working on various solutions for the inhumane conditions that exist in Skid Row. First and foremost is our call for public safety - all people who live Downtown, and especially Skid Row residents, deserve a crime-free, gang-free, drug-free and empowered community to call their own.” Prior to the walk, I had never heard of the CCEA. Hearing the protesters yell about how they believe that the CCEA and the police officers are corrupt really confused me. All I could do was keep my eyes and ears open, and observe what was going on all around me. What I was told by one of the officers, which I found to be interesting, was that people participating in the protest weren’t even living on skid row and had been bused in for the protest, and that the residents of skid row supported the work that the police were doing. I found it interesting that the protesters’ yelling and signage was personalized in a way that would suggest that they did live on Skid Row. Some of them looked like people that one would find living comfortably in the suburbs. I also wanted to keep an eye out for how skid row residents were responding to Officer Joseph, to see if they possibly did support the work done by the CCEA and the police.
As we proceeded down the street, I began to wonder about how many of the people living in the Skid Row population were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ). I’ve heard many times about LGBTQ youth getting kicked out of their homes because their families don’t want to accept their sexual orientation or gender expression. I read an article by the California Homeless Youth Project, and saw some statistics stating that “individuals represent between five and ten percent of the general youth population, yet they make up 15 to 25 percent of the homeless youth population. Percentages are even higher in certain communities known to offer support and services to the LGBTQ community, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, where LGBTQ youth represent up to 40 percent of the homeless youth population.” I was among one of the lucky LGBTQ youth, who came from a supportive home and didn’t get thrown out into the streets. There is an amazing organization called JQ International, that goes into different synagogues and educational establishments, to train their clergy, teachers and family members on how to prevent such circumstances within the LGBTQ Jewish community. If I had been in another family, I may have ended up living in the conditions that I was witnessing on Skid Row.
I noticed an odd looking structure, and was told that they were ATP’s, which stands for Automatic Public Toilets. They replaced all the porta-potties on skid row, which were being used for illegal activity. I was told that the ATP’s are consistently monitored and that the doors automatically open after 20 minutes. They are also self-cleaning. When I went online to find out the name of the structure, I saw a quote in an article on the Los Angeles Downtown News website, that further described what was going on in the porta-potties… “The outdoor toilets that we had were a disaster,” said Central Division Police Capt. Andy Smith. “They had prostitutes living in them, using them as their homes of prostitution. We pulled numerous dead bodies out of them from people who would go in to shoot up heroin. People were defecating outside while others declared them their residence inside.” The leader of the walk who was from the CCEA, indicated that the ATP’s have been a successful solution to illegal activities that had been happening in the porta-potties.
When we reached the end of the block, right before we were supposed to cross the street, we were told about the horrors that had happened at the preschool we were facing across the street. The pre-school is for children, whose parents mostly work in the garment district. The police had an awful situation to deal with. People on skid row had been dumping tons of used condoms and needles behind the preschool walls. One of the people leading the tour told me why they had been doing that, however I can’t remember the reason. The protest was very distracting.
As we walked forward, I saw that Officer Joseph had stopped to talk to an older man sitting in a wheel chair. I approached them to see what was going on, and was startled at the condition the man was in. He was intoxicated, and looked as though he must have been abusing himself with drugs and alcohol for decades. His eyes were glowing due to cataracts, and what was supposed to be the whites of his eyes were swollen, red and filmy. This man was killing himself. Officer Joseph was trying to convince him to get help by getting in a van owned and operated by LAHSA, which stands for Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Their workers join the monthly walks to conduct outreach to those living on the streets. For a moment, the man was almost willing to get into the van, but his temperament changed and he declined their help. Officer Joseph said that was the 26th time that he has tried to get him to seek shelter. We had to move forward.
Seeing the old man made me think about the beast of addiction, and how people are willing to kill themselves over it. I have known several young people, who had every opportunity in the world, overdose on heroine. They knew that death was always around the corner, but it didn’t matter. They were in such pain that they didn’t want to stop doing the very thing they felt was the only solution for escaping their pain. Officer Joseph said that there are many young people living on skid row that come from very prominent and wealthy families. I’ve known a few people from the Jewish community that have ended up on skid row. Addiction discriminates against no one. I have been to way too many funerals at Mount Sinai Memorial Park, and have had to watch siblings, parents and children having to bury their loved ones. Attending those funerals tremendously impacted me, and has been some of the heaviest experiences of my life.
All throughout the walk, I saw Officer Joseph having very nice interactions with the residents of skid row. He knew their names, and would give them a warm hug or handshake, as if they were dear friends. I felt that the exchange was very sincere and do not believe that it was just an act on Officer Joseph’s part. He was treating them like descent human beings. Their faces would light up and they would smile while in Officer Joseph’s presence. You could tell that they felt taken care of by him. Even some of the super sketchy people liked him even though they knew that Officer Joseph was after them, because they knew that if they were to go to him for help that he would help them. He was also passing out a newsletter that he had made for the residents that included a missing persons report, individual job listings, information on job fairs and transitional housing. The last two pages were what he called “a little inspiration.” Officer Joseph mentioned how this past April, he was presented with the Central City Association Treasure of Los Angeles Award. He said, “In law enforcement, we do not put on our badges to win awards. The real reward is being able to make positive changes where we serve.” He said that he felt there were others who deserved the honor more than him, that rarely get recognized for their work in the Skid Row community. He put out a list of amazing people that worked for organizations like LAMP, Midnight Mission, Volunteers of America, Skid Row Housing Trust, and many others. He even thanked someone he referred to as “the unknown man” who had given up a chance for Officer Joseph to house him, so that an elderly man could be housed. He said, “You touched me brother. I have never forgotten you.” While watching Officer Joseph interact within the Skid Row community, I felt that I was witnessing unconditional love. It was very touching and I hope to have that same kind of presence and influence as I engage within the world.
On the last few blocks of the walk, we passed by where all the gangs congregate. There must have been over a hundred people hanging around in the area. Officer Joseph had me walk with him as he pointed out specific gangs that he recognized, and told me the nicknames of their different members, such as Mousey… They were standing around a park that was closed, but after 9pm the gates open and the gangs take over. You can only be a gang member to enter. They were there to mostly sell drugs. I learned that there was a team effort going on between the men and women in the same gangs, when it came to how they sold the drugs. The men looked out and the women hid the drugs inside of their bodies. They also hid weapons in their bodies. While we were passing through, I saw an old woman scurrying across the street. She must have been over 70 years old. Officer Joseph said that he has tried multiple times to get her into housing but she refuses to go. It was very upsetting to see, especially with the awareness that women are sexually assaulted all the time. Men are also sexually assaulted.
After we turned the corner we once again saw the Midnight Mission, which is where the walk both started and ended. I thanked the woman from the CCEA, Officer Joseph and the other police officers, and tried to walk away quickly since I could see that the protest was getting all rallied up. Once again, Michael Jeffreys and I had to cross through the courtyard and pass the sea of faces. This time, I did look them in the eyes. I wanted to see the humanity in them. I saw kind faces, sad faces, angry faces, smiling faces and lost faces. These were people with their own stories and struggles, which landed them to become homeless. Standing in the doorway to enter the building was a man with tired, kind and smiling eyes, and was thanking us for coming. When he went to raise his hand to shake mine goodbye, he almost tapped a young woman who had serious mental issues and she began to have an anger outburst and started to yell. As she walked away the man and I looked back at each other and smiled and shook hands. I thanked him as well. I walked back into the building, headed towards the elevator and took it back down to the parking lot underneath. Things once again became quiet, and Michael and I were left with our thoughts, as we headed back towards our nice neighborhoods. Michael said that he woke up the next morning feeling grateful to just have a bed to sleep in, instead of a sidewalk to sleep on. I felt inspired to possibly somehow volunteer in the Skid Row community.
Officer Joseph offered to give me another informative walk around Skid Row sometime, when there wasn’t a protest going on, and so I emailed him yesterday to take him up on the offer. He told me that it would be an eye opener for me, which is ironic because it has already profoundly opened my eyes. Apparently we had only scratched the surface.
6.5.13 at 11:48 am | LA Pride Kicks off with the Purple Party June 7. . .
2.17.13 at 11:04 am | Registration for the May 2013 trip is NOW OPEN!. . .
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11.14.12 at 10:52 am | Beth Chayim Chadishim commemorates Transgender. . .
8.25.12 at 3:13 am | The 'If I Were a Rich Man Tour' is a. . .
7.17.12 at 10:05 pm | Each and every day, with open eyes, we can. . .
7.23.10 at 12:09 pm | "our obligation [is] to treat human beings with. . . (19)
5.8.12 at 4:01 pm | Let's not forget - Maurice Sendak was a gay man. (7)
7.17.12 at 10:05 pm | Each and every day, with open eyes, we can. . . (7)
August 2, 2011 | 4:36 pm
Posted by Naomi Goldberg
An article in today’s New York Times highlights the disagreements within the Conservative Movement on the topic of marriage of gay and lesbian couples. (Available here) Is this just a case of the Conservative Movement trying to hold the space between Reform and Orthodox Judaism? Or, it is a generational divide that will fade over time?
Six national polls have found majority support for marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. What gives, Conservative Movement?
July 28, 2011 | 11:07 pm
Posted by Chanel Dubofsky
Reblogged from Diverge: www.idiverge.wordpress.com
Two things to know about me: 1. My parents are divorced. 2. My mother and grandmother raised me. One thing you might not know: I didn’t think growing up in a house without men was weird, until people told me it was. My family just was what it was, and that was fine. Parents got divorced. Sometimes grandmothers moved in, and sometimes parents got remarried. People died. These were facts. Everybody had different ones.
Based on my facts, and how uncomfortable or confused they make other people, there’s an impulse to try to figure me out, especially when it comes to my politics. Two classics are: “The reason you don’t want to get married is because your parents’ marriage broke up,” and “You don’t want to have kids because your mother died and you’re afraid you’ll get sick and die too.”
Of course, the impulse to understand someone who’s not like you is natural-one could argue that as a fiction writer, I do it everyday. Part of me thinks these attempts to shrink me are hilarious, but most of me is outraged. Our experiences, the textures of our lives, contribute to making us who we are. I could have reacted differently to what’s happened in my life. Instead of opting out of marriage and children, I could be grasping for them-desperate to create the traditional structure that I didn’t have.
Here’s the thing about me, though-the way I’ve responded to my experiences is to be honest about what I want. The reason I want those things, or don’t want them, may in fact be influenced by my upbringing, but that’s why the phrase “the personal is political” is so important and relevant. Being a feminist, or radical character of any sort, means actively rejecting and/or analyzing what crosses my path everyday, things I’m expected to accept and conform to as a woman. Since I make different choices, since I challenge structures and threaten what people consider normal, this leaves me vulnerable for the attack, or the analysis of others.
The overarching theme in my decision-making is that I believe in being truthful with myself about what I think and feel will make the best life for me, where I can build a space in which I can access my potential to work for justice and create. As a person who benefits from white skinned, educated privilege, I can make these decisions in relative safety and security.
The bottom line is this: We pathologize people who make choices that place them outside of normative structures. We might believe our efforts are benign – after all, we’re just trying to understand each other. We read other’s experiences through our individual lenses, but then we use the most nefarious of systems-sexism, racism, heteronormativity, etc- to process them, because we’ve learned to associate normalcy with morality and truth. That’s the most insipid part of all of this-the fact that we really believe that we’re the safest when everyone else is just like us.
July 28, 2011 | 9:21 am
Posted by Naomi Goldberg
On Sunday, gay and lesbian couples in New York began marrying, as the most populist state yet extended marriage equality to same-sex couples. Check out this blog post from a rabbi in Minnesota as she discusses watching couples wed in New York as her own state struggles with the equality of LGBT Minnesotans.
July 22, 2011 | 5:56 pm
Posted by Chanel Dubofsky
Reposted from my blog, Diverge (www.idiverge.wordpress.com)
I spent three hours at the archive today, upstairs in the periodicals, looking at and filing copies of Heresies, Aegis and Chrysalis (save an extra copy of things published before 1980).
There’s a grey box that contains what folks at the archive think is the first lesbian newsletter, Vice Versa, written in 1947 by a woman in California on her typewriter “for all her dykey friends.” (F, another volunteer) I was afraid to touch it, it’s so important, but this is the point of an archive, especially a feminist one, for enable people to encounter history.
We looked at piles of newsletters and magazines that had been donated from individuals and universities, deciding if they had anything to do with lesbians, or if they were just general feminist publications. It was such an interesting distinction to make, and to consider, since for me, they’ve always been inseparable. I have such great, complicated thoughts at the archive, there must be something in the walls, or the books, or, most likely, it’s the energy of all of it.
Before I left, F told me that the brownstone next door had recently been purchased by two women, a couple, for around two million dollars. “Some women have money, I guess,” she said.
July 22, 2011 | 5:52 pm
Posted by Chanel Dubofsky
Reposted from my blog, Diverge (www.idiverge.wordpress.com).
On Saturday, I spent a long time at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn. It makes me feel so hopeful there, my thoughts get so much larger, my imagination comes off its leash. It’s full of pulp novels, photos, posters, oral histories, diaries, music, fiction, autobiographies, and basically anything else you would find in an archive. There is a delicious purple couch and a kitchen and a long, curved staircase and shelves and shelves of book with yellow and green pages from the 1970’s that smell old and wise. All the fiction, biographies and autobiographies are shelved by first name, not last, a holdover from 70’s radical feminism, which I love. (Subversive feminist action: Reshelve all your books in this manner.)
I read two essays while in the Archive, both from Voices from Women’s Liberation, possibly published in 1971. (Yes, I opened it and inhaled, which is what one should do with old books.) I made a plan to volunteer there, and thought about some things.
1. What I was wearing that day, which is dangerously similar to what I’m wearing today, and what I wore yesterday, which are these shorts I made out of a pair of corduroy pants, some flip flops, and a purple v neck shirt. I felt really attractive and confident in those clothes, the way I often feel when I’m wearing clothes that are comfortable and modest (not by religious standards, but by my own). It seems to be curious to others that I dress in a manner that may not attract men. What does it mean to feel good in clothes we’re not “allowed” to feel good in? What about feeling good in bodies that we’re not supposed to love?
2. This is a conversation I’ve been having often, about when it’s okay to claim a queer identity. Apparently, there’s an essay out there by a white Dude, who’s straight, and identifies as queer. If anyone knows what I’m talking about, send it to me. I’m thinking about whether, because my politics are queer (as in radical, out of the mainstream, anti essentialist), it’s okay to identify that way, even if I want my sexual partners to be male bodied. If I claim that identity, am I an imposter? Who does it matter to? If I’m perceived as queer anyway (because of politics, appearance, etc), how much heterosexual privilege do I really have?
Easy questions, obviously. I expect you all to have answers.
July 21, 2011 | 1:37 pm
Posted by Lia Mandelbaum
Whenever I am writing a blog, the content and message comes from a reflection on an experience and lesson, which I find deeply moving, powerful and of which I feel passionate. As I seek truth, it is these experiences that open my eyes to feeling truly alive and present during my borrowed time on this earth.
My birthday is approaching on July 22, and I will be 28 years old. This birthday is especially profound for me because I feel more alive then ever. Although I was alive and breathing, my spirit felt dead during many years of my life. I was spending day after day being lost, lacking a purpose and passion for life. I believe that there are people who can relate to this feeling. Over the past four years I have worked incredibly hard to truly feel alive, and now that I do, I never want to go back to feeling dead inside. The way I nourish my soul to feel alive is through finding meaning, purpose, compassion, and gratitude within my everyday experiences.
Lately I have been thinking about death and dying, and how incredibly important it is to understand and accept my mortality. Definitely not a light subject, but I believe that by facing the terrifying reality that I will one day pass away, it will be powerful in helping me to open my eyes towards a new perspective and a greater sense of aliveness. I find that within society, we go to great lengths to not talk about death, and it is really harmful that we do not integrate ourselves with the reality of it. I find that the more I face death, the more I want to make the most out of this lifetime. I want to be present and soak it in.
I have been facing my mortality through studying geriatric social work while in school. The other day in my policies and procedures class, we went over what happens biologically when we become elderly. My grandmother, who is a very tough cookie, which I attribute to her learning how to survive during the great depression, has said to me numerous times “getting old is not for wimps.” I found myself getting scared, yet inspired to lead a more healthy life, as my professor relayed in detail how our bodies begin to shut down over time, and the complications that occur.
I am also taking the steps to become a volunteer for hospice. I’ve heard from many people who have worked or volunteered for hospice, that they find it to be the most fulfilling experience. My professor warned me that hospice work can be very sad since you often form real human to human connections as the people who are in the face of death have dropped their barriers.
My professor asked me what my intention was in wanting to volunteer with hospice because she wanted to see if it was for the right reasons. She said that people often volunteer because they want to see what they can get out of the experience, however it is really important to have the intention of wanting to see what you can bring to the patient, rather then what you can receive from them. I told her that when I am around the elderly, it brings out the best in me, as I naturally shift into being fully present, patient, and have an open heart. I feel unconditional love towards them, something I learned from my grandparents. I truly enjoy hearing them share the stories and the history of their life experiences. I find that their faces light up as they reflect and share.
I also mentioned to my professor about a beautiful moment I had shared with my grandfather only a few months before he had passed away. My grandfather had been battling Alzheimer’s disease during the last few years of his life. The symptoms had gotten really bad really quickly towards the end of his life. Since I lived in California I didn’t get to see him much, but I had heard from family members what was going on with him. Before I went home to see him and be with the family, when I would imagine what it would be like when I saw him, I found myself feeling really scared to face him. During this incredible moment with my grandfather, which I believe is one of the most special moments in my life, I was fearless and present, and the unconditionally loving part of me came out. My cousin who was witnessing this moment, was amazed at how my grandfathers demeanor had totally changed, from being very volatile with outbursts of anger towards almost everyone (symptom of Alzheimer’s), to having melted with me and became the incredibly sweet man that I had always known him to be. He looked at me with such loving eyes and asked me how I had gotten so beautiful. I believe that my grandfather, who had witnessed me being so incredibly lost and in such great pain for so many years, was able to recognize my inner peace. I am so grateful that he got to witness that inside of me before he passed away. If I volunteer with hospice, I hope that I can bring comfort to the patient, as I exude the same fearless, present and supportive person that I had been with my grandfather. After I told my professor my reasons for wanting to volunteer with hospice, she encouraged me to continue to explore seeing if it is right for me.
My mom told me about how grandfather, before he got ill, used to read the obituaries every morning, and in his own sense of humor say, “just checking to make sure that I’m not in them.” It wasn’t until October 3, 2010 that my grandfather would have his own obituary, right after passing away on October 1, 2010. His memorial service was at Congregation Schaarai Zedek in Tampa, FL, and was held in the very sanctuary that he designed as an architect. There were over 400 people there to pay tribute to the man who was known for having integrity and a big heart. He was a silent leader, not needing to boast and be recognized for his talents and contributions. As I spoke at his memorial, I talked about how my grandfather had left me a tremendously profound gift, which was to be able to witness the death of someone who had gotten to live a full life span with dignity and grace. Up until his memorial, the only experiences that I had with death were tragic. Prior to my grandfather passing away, from 2007-2010, I witnessed 24 people loose their lives to addiction. Many of them were close friends. The number will climb. My view of death had been very heavy, dark and scary. I would panic when I would think about death. My grandfather helped me realize that death didn’t always have to be tragic. I realized that I deeply desired to leave a legacy like my grandfather had. I began to shed my heavy fear about death because it transformed into something that could be a celebration of life instead of a tragedy.
I thought about what I would want my obituary to look like…
MANDELBAUM, Lia B. Age 93, died Friday, July 21, 2077. Ms. Mandelbaum was a licensed social worker and therapist. She was a professor at the local university and was also the executive director of a non-profit, which was geared towards helping people from all walks of life, to have an equal opportunity and chance to lead a productive, healthy, purposeful and happy life. She believed tremendously in the power of living from the heart and being vulnerable, and so she fearlessly wore her heart on her sleeve. Lia was very genuine, grounded, and a role model to so many. People felt safe to be themselves around her because of how she embraced the beauty in not being perfect. Lia Mandelbaum has touched the lives of many and will be very missed. She has left a legacy of great love, compassion, bravery, determination, and an amazing endurance towards making the world a better place, one day at a time. Survivors include her partner and best friend of 60 years, her 3 children and 8 grandchildren.
I ask you, the reader, to think about what you would want your obituary to look like.
July 6, 2011 | 4:31 pm
Posted by Kalil Cohen
Outfest: The 29th Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival starts this Thursday night with the Opening Night Gala film GUN HILL ROAD, starring Esai Morales, Judy Reyes, and newcomer Harmony Santana. To find out more or buy tickets, visit www.outfest.org.
With over 150 films at 7 venues across Los Angeles, there is something for every audience. Among this wide variety of films are several films by Jewish filmmakers, some of which I profiled last month here:
Among these is AUGUST, a beautifully shot film set in Los Angeles and centers on two ex-lovers whose passions are reignited when one moves back to Los Angeles while the other is in a long-term committed relationship. With a non-linear and interwoven narrative, this film is much more than a simple love triangle. Major themes of the film are regret and desire, and the challenge of breaking habitual cycles. I recently caught up with Eldar Rapaport, Israeli-American filmmaker of AUGUST. Eldar is being featured at Outfest as one of the “Four in Focus” filmmakers presenting their feature film debuts. I recently had the opportunity to preview AUGUST, and to find out more about the filmmaking process.
You can see AUGUST on July 10th at 9:45pm at the Director’s Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 90046
(between Crescent Heights and Fairfax)
There is free parking in the DGA parking lot located just south of Sunset on Hayworth Ave.
You can buy tickets here: http://www.outfest.org/tixSYS/2011/filmguide/films/3308
Have you made films in Israel as well as in the United States? If so, does your experience of making movies differ between the two countries?
I actually have never shot a film in Israel. I have worked on productions, but never directed. My impression is that it’s easier there for the independents in the sense that you just go ahead and do it. Hit the ground running, less permits and paperwork. Raising money though is easier here. Many of my friends wait on government funds to go shoot.
I noticed that you feature Israeli musicians in the music for AUGUST. Can you talk a bit about that decision?
This music was the inspiration for this entire film. I wrote the short film Postmortem (on which August is based) to the music of Harel Shachal and Anistar after seeing them perform in NYC and this past year I partnered with another Israeli musician, Surque who composed my original score. This music is an integral part of this film. I can’t see it any other way.
How has winning the Iris Prize affected your career?
I think I owe a lot to Iris. I’ve been trying to raise money for a while and only after my win investors were able to look at me and say “We guess we can trust him now. He has proof he knows what he’s doing.” From there on I raised the money pretty quickly.
AUGUST started as a short film. What was it like to turn that into a feature film?
It was a long process. The short was meant to be an anecdote with no continuation. But it was received so well that people asked for the feature. And so the process began. You come along bumps along the way as to the structure and characters arc but it’s also quite inspiring. It provides a lot more freedom to invent things. I think the most challenging was how to adapt it to LA and how to sustain the audience’s interest for 100 minutes of what was a topic of a short film. I think we succeeded in both.
What is your writing process like? Do you tend to develop characters first and then the plot? Do you start with a general concept and see where it goes, or do you start writing with a good idea of where the story is heading?
My process is quite free form actually. I usually know my starting point and the end point and then I connect the two points. The characters are always very clear to me but their arcs reveal themselves while I write the story (in this case collaborating with Brian Sloan). So I dump a hell of a lot on the page and then start molding and cutting away. And I never write without music. I have to find a song that represents the film. It keeps me focused and helps me visualize things.
Do you have any projects in the works?
I’m about to shoot the Iris short at the end of this summer in Wales. It’s called “Little Man” and is based on the short story of Israeli novelist Etgar Keret. I’m also developing another Israeli novella, “Games of Joy,” by Yael Hedaya into a feature film to be shot in NY.