"I was always one of those kids who were glued to the screen"
Today we'd like to introduce Adva Reichman, an LA-based writer, and director, originally from Israel. A graduate of the TV & Film MFA program at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Adva's most recent project is Something to Live For, which she wrote and directed, screened at prestigious festivals around the world. Shot in Israel, the film deals with the complex life of an individual living in the circumstances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Before moving to LA, Reichman worked for the Israeli News and was also involved in the production of several documentary films that deal with the region's geopolitical events. Her experiences with these jobs have inspired many of her writings.
Adva Reichman at Urban World Film Festival. Photo by Jason Stack
Adva, please tell us a bit about yourself. What made you pursue a career in film and television?
I was always one of those kids who were glued to the screen. TV was magical to me and I couldn’t help but want more and more. My parents tried to limit my obsession, but I was already addicted. So, I did what any addict would and moved to LA to pursue a life in it. Honestly though, ever since I can remember I wrote poems, then stories and now screenplays. And somewhere along the line, I discovered the magic in directing. I was hooked, and I knew this is what I needed to do.
What was it like growing up in Israel, do you feel growing up there shaped your creative style, in a way? You write a lot about the Middle East. What inspired those films?
Growing up in Israel, there is no getting away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I served as an Operation Sergeant in Jenin, The West Bank, in a unit that bridged between the army forces and the Palestinians in our regime. I was just 18 but got this responsibility and became their first contact. Later in life, I worked in the Israeli news, covering the 2014 war and non-stop terror. I also worked on 4 documentaries that revolved around terror attack and kidnappings during the 70’s and 80’s including ‘Rescue bus 300’. So, it was always around me but as I grew older I found myself dealing with it more and more.
In 2015, I moved to LA, but my thoughts remained in Israel, with these stories. Writing about them was the only thing I could do to deal with it. After the 2014 war, I needed to find a way to let the pain out and ‘Project Fog’ was born.
I wrote about the conflict again in ‘Something to Live For’ but this time I wanted to put a strong woman in the lead. I imagined what I would do, who I would be under different circumstances. I wanted to explore the conflict from the point of view of the other side and tried to keep politics out of it.
Then I co-wrote ‘Samir’. Financed by Warner Bros, ‘Samir’ is an adaptation to ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ and follows a Middle Eastern man who was framed for terror and sent to Guantanamo. It premiered in the Heartland Film Festival in October. All of those touch on who we are as Middle Easterns and the choices we make but explore them from different aspects.
Tell us more about ‘Samir, the project you've co-written, financed by Warner Brothers. How did that come about and what was the process like and what does this project means to you?
When I was little my grandpa gave me the book ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’. He loved reading it when he young and wanted me to have the same beautiful experience. For some reason, that book stayed on my shelf for years. My grandpa always asked if I read it already, but it took me far too long. Years later, I caught the movie on a plane, back when they screened movies on a shared screen. By the time I realized what I was watching, I was already so hooked I couldn’t stop. 2 years ago, a request for an adaption arrived and I knew I had to be a part of it. With John Watson (two time-Oscar nominated writer and producer) in charge, a group of writers gathered, and we created our version for the story. We mold and shaped, argued and changed until we found our plot. During the process, my grandpa passed away and I flew home to his funeral and Shiva. I hope he’s proud.
Something to Live For - Trailer
Let's dive into your latest project, Something to Live For. What was your experience working on this film and what were some of the challenging moments during the production?
‘Something to Live For’ revolves around a pregnant Palestinian woman whose husband died in the Israeli prison. With the help of Hamas, she plans a terror attack in Israel to revenge his death. The premature birth of her baby makes her reconsider, but will Hamas let her off the hook?
The production process was challenging. It’s a very divisive topic and I knew it’ll make everything twice as hard. I had producers who tried to change the script and the meaning of the film to fit their politics, actors who wanted to audition and then changed their minds or left after they got the role, and so on. Luckily for me, I found an incredible producer, Nir Dvortchin, and an associate producer, Gal Dor, who both fought to make it happen.
We had many interesting moments on set. We got the Israeli army’s approval and shot the border scene next to the real wall. We had to stop shooting each time Palestinians came and needed to cross in order to get to the real border. It was surreal. Here we were, filming a scene with soldiers, people trying to cross while one of them wears a bomb, in a made belief border, while they were on their way to the real one.
What was the reaction to the film, how was it received by audiences so far?
Honestly, after seeing the problems we faced during production, I was worried the controversy of the story might hurt us. However, I’m happy to say we’ve received lots of love and screened all over the world in beautiful prestigious festivals. We showed everyone that Jews and Arabs can come together, work, create something meaningful and have fun while doing it. It gave me hope for a real change and made me proud of my cast and crew.
What are you currently working on?
I’m finishing a short film that deals with date rape. A young woman goes on a date, and when it goes well, she relaxes, has fun and drinks. At the end of the night, they make out in her bed, as she starts to lose her focus due to the alcohol. The last thing she remembers is saying ‘no’, but she wakes up to see it happened anyway. I started working on that script a few years ago before MeToo began because there were too many stories, too much trauma. It took me a while to be ready to do this film because it’s a painful subject. You’re left with too many questions and not enough answers. Maybe one day, when I’ll have more answers, I’ll write a longer version and deepen on the healing process.
After working on such difficult topics, I felt like I needed to do something fun and do some good. So, I found a way to combine my love for animals and my skills in the film. I recently shot a commercial for Bark N Bitches, which is a beautiful store in West Hollywood that saves dogs from kill shelters. They bring them to the store where they stay until they get adopted. All the dogs get medical care and are free to run around and socialized with other dogs and people. it’s a magical place that does so much good, so I knew I wanted to be a part of it. It was definitely funny directing dogs and finding myself worrying about different kinds of problems on set. For example, trying to stop the dogs from peeing all over our equipment. We had such a good time that in the end, our second DP, Anthony Mangini, adopted one of the dogs. After this great experience, I realized I wanted to do more so I’m in contact with a few other animal organizations to help bring attention to their causes.
What can you share about your process with actors? How does one achieve great performances from an actor?
I was fortunate enough to work with talented hard-working actors who were extremely committed to their craft. I try to make them relate to their character and the world they’re in.
In ‘Something to Live For’, the talented Anuar Jour, played Nabila and the gifted Mozart Kteilat played her Hamas’ handler. I wanted to instill fear in Anuar and a sense of power and authority in Mozart. So, with their consent, we tied Anuar’s hands behind her back and covered her eyes as Mozart walked around her and threatened her. The transformation in both of them was clear. At another time, we practiced the stabbing and when Anuar realized she won’t be trying to stab the air, but the actor in front of her, she started crying. Up to that point, we were laughing in the rehearsal, but at that moment, it hit her and became real. That overwhelming feeling never went away, and it didn’t matter that it was a prop knife, the understanding of what she was doing had already sunk in.
Another example is my short film ‘Silhouette’ that follows a burlesque dancer who’s contemplating having a double mastectomy after finding out she’s carrying the BRCA gene. Seeing her mom passing away from cancer, she understands it might ruin her job, but will save her life. The wonderful Suzanne Dodd played the mom, and she herself was going through chemo before we shot. Because the subject was important for her, she agreed to take her wig off and act with her real hair which she usually tended to hide because of the damage it suffered after chemo. Once she took the wig off, there was a vulnerability we were able to channel for her role. The skillful Sagan Rose, who played the lead, used her real burlesque skills to not only dance in the film but to understand the price the character will pay. In one of the scenes, she takes her shirt off and imagines herself without her breasts. We talked about the emotions and rehearsed, but she only took her shirt off when we actually shot. I think feeling this exposed in front of the crew for the first time, made her emotions run even higher, and the outcome even more moving.
If you could have dinner with anyone in the film industry, who would that be and why?
Juaquin Phoenix. Not many actors can get into character like that. Become whoever and whatever they need. I’m constantly blown away by his performances. And on top of that, he’s an activist who cares and donates his time to help animals. I adore that in people with power or fame. Using it to bring awareness to a cause they believe in is inspiring.
What's next for you?
‘Project Fog’. The screenplay follows an undercover Israeli agent who infiltrated Hamas in Gaza and is ordered to locate a kidnapped Israeli soldier. Shockingly, he finds out his son is one of the kidnappers and is now forced to choose between his son and his country while trying to keep his identity a secret. So, it’s set in the same world as ‘Something to Live For’ but presents new characters and is able to go deeper on what both sides go through. The idea behind it is to explore the complexity of this conflict and challenge love and loyalty. And of course, keep the conversation going. We must find a way to talk again.
Where can our readers follow you and your work?
I post about my work and upcoming screenings on my Instagram - Adva Reichman. Let’s connect: