Award-winning Israeli film

Producer Gal Greenspan at the Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick where his film Scaffolding is screening. Photo: Peter Haskin

CHARISMATIC Israeli high school teacher Matan Yair found more than personal satisfaction when he taught history and literature to troublesome students who had been rejected from the regular school system.

It sparked an idea for a movie that stemmed from the special relationship he formed with one of his teenage students.

Yair, 41, who made the documentary film It is Written in Your ID that I am Your Father in 2008, and published his first novel in 2009, graduated from the screenwriting program at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem and the MFA directing program at Tel Aviv University.

Yair wrote a script outline about his class and 17-year-old student Asher Lax and pitched it to Israeli producer Gal Greenspan, with the suggestion that Yair also direct and star as himself in the movie.

Greenspan, CEO and co-founder of Green Productions based in Givatayim near Tel Aviv, was immediately excited about a movie based on Asher’s relationship with his charismatic teacher and his dominant father who wanted him to take over the family scaffolding business.

“It was just over two years ago that Matan came to me and showed me a clip that he had filmed with Asher,” Greenspan told The AJN.

“Right away I thought it looked amazing and powerful and would make a film for the big screen.”

Was Asher the first choice for the role, even though he had no acting experience?

“We had auditions with actors, but we knew right away that Asher was perfect for the role,” said Greenspan. “And he thought it would be a good challenge for him.”

And casting the teacher’s role?

“Matan wanted to play the teacher in the film, but we thought it was more important for him to direct the film,” said Greenspan.

Israeli actor Ami Smolarchik was offered the role of the teacher.

Yair spent three months writing the script based on Asher’s real-life story, and soon afterwards it was pitched at the 2016 Jerusalem Film Festival.

“We won the first prize at the pitching session and four months later we started filming,” said Greenspan.

Greenspan also faced another challenge – Asher would start his army service when he turned 18, so he only had six or seven months to produce the film.

“Usually it takes quite a few years to produce a film, so it was a big challenge,” he said.

With Yair directing his debut feature film – titled Scaffolding – shooting took place over 16 days during school holidays.

Set in a small city outside Tel Aviv, Scaffolding centres on the gifted but troubled student Asher (Lax), who spends his days hanging out and ignoring his education.

At home, Asher’s single father Milo (Yaacov Cohen) pressures him to take over his scaffolding business.

When charismatic teacher Rami (Ami Smolarchik) arrives, Asher is inspired to rethink what he wants to do with his life.

Six months after filming was completed, Scaffolding premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to acclaim and then screened at the 2017 Jerusalem Film Festival where it took out the top awards for best feature film and best actor (Asher Lax).

And at Israel’s 2017 Ophir Awards (the Israeli Oscars) it won best supporting actor for Smolarchik.

Melbourne movie fans saw Scaffolding at last year’s Jewish International Film Festival, and the film opened at the Classic Cinemas and ACMI Cinemas in Melbourne on April 5.

Greenspan’s Green Productions was a co-producer on the Yiddish film Menashe, centred around a Brooklyn Chassidic single father Menashe trying to raise his son.

“Menashe and Scaffolding have a lot of similarities with the main actors playing themselves and telling their own stories,” he said.

“Both films are part-documentary and part-fiction in order to tell a true story with dramatic licence.”

Last year Greenspan and his Australian wife Kate settled in Melbourne with plans to establish a foothold in Australia making feature films.

Scaffolding is screening at the Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick and ACMI Cinemas, Federation Square. Bookings: www.acmi.net.au and www.classiccinemas.com.au

REPORT by Danny Gocs