Israeli filmmaker now calls Atlanta home

Israeli filmmaker Eran Merav doesn't have far to travel to present his potent domestic drama, "Zion and His Brother," at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival tonight and Thursday. He recently moved to Midtown with his new wife, Kristen Gorell.

Nominated for the grand jury prize for world cinema at last year's Sundance Film Festival, Merav's directorial debut is about the wavering bond between two brothers in a gritty neighborhood of Haifa, Israel, after they become ensnared in a tragic accident involving an Ethiopian boy. The 34-year-old filmmaker says "Zion" will get a commercial American release this year.

Q: Was your main objective to tell one dysfunctional family's story or should their story be read as a bigger statement about life in Israel today?

A: When you are making a film in Israel, even if you are not aware of it, you are making a decision whether or not to make a film about the conflict. This is a political decision that every artist is faced with in Israel.

I decided to make a film that wasn't about the conflict. I wanted to focus on a family's story. But I found as I went along that the conflict was still there, coming in through the back door.

In "Zion" there is a missing boy that nobody really looks for, no organized search. I think there has been a marked decrease in the value of human life in Israel since I was a kid. When a thousand people get killed in one month in Gaza, 70 miles south of the film's location, without any debate, what is one Ethiopian immigrant boy compared to those people? I feel strongly aware of how the conflict is leaking into the way we live.

Q: What influenced your screenplay?

A: I tried to have a simple story. I thought about "The Bicycle Thief," where you could tell the story in one line like a father and a son looking for a stolen bike. In my case, a pair of brothers looking for stolen shoes. My film could have easily been solved if only the mother had given $20 to her [younger] son. The big brother also functions as the father. However he is just a teenager, so this leads to a lot of frustration. No one in that family functions in the way that they should.

Q: Do you think you'll be able to continue your filmmaking career while based in Atlanta?

A: It is easy to live here and I have a lot of opportunity to write. Will I shoot here eventually? I don't know yet.

Q: What do you like most and least about Atlanta? What do you miss most about Israel?

A: It is a bit like living in a postcard. From the perspective of an Israeli, it is very green, people are very polite, and it is much less intense. It is unusual that it is such a big metropolis yet you don't see that many people on the street. Of course, I miss my family. I am still looking for a good coffeehouse that is not part of a chain.

Q: Growing up, were you influenced by American movies or filmmakers?

A: You can't grow up anywhere, I think, without being influenced by American movies. I love [John] Cassavetes and I think Clint Eastwood is a god on earth. When I was in film school, I remember studying that only in the States could mythology still be created.

Film preview

"Zion and His Brother"

6:45 tonight and 1:25 p.m. Thursday at Lefont Sandy Springs. , 404-806-9913.