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A cinematic journey following the traditional coal industry scattered around Israel and the West Bank, shedding light on economic relations between the two sides, and exploring distorted processes and situations. Click on the window above to view a trailer of the documentary film and see below to find out more about its background and how it was made…
The director Vadim Dumesh explains: “The Ya’bad situation is an absurd Catch 22: on one side the authorities are doing the ‘right thing’ because of the damage the coal workshops are doing to the environment and workers’ health. On the other there is no other way for the villagers to exist; they have no opportunity for other jobs and most of them don’t have another profession. Somehow the situation in this small community feels, to me, like a strong metaphor for global environmental problems: we are polluting our home because of the limitations of our well-being and way of life.”
He adds: “Together with the Director of Photography, Philippe Bellaiche, I want to create a short documentary about the villagers of Ya’bad that will both discover their situation to the world but will also suggest the ways to break their vicious circle.”
The treatment for the documentary film caught the eyes of the judges for its proposed telling of a little-known story but one that maintains a striking resonance far from its geographical source – the struggle of a community to survive when faced with extreme economic hardship. The proposal captured the panel’s attention due to its combination of visual storytelling of Middle Eastern views, the lives of the working people of the area and the environmentally unfriendly element of fire within the narrative.
Originally from Latvia, Vadim Dumesh is a documentary filmmaker with a background in economics. Now based and working out of Tel Aviv, Israel, Vadim maintains an international profile and versatile skill-set in the development, production and directing of various types of documentary content. Since finishing his studies at the Sam Spiegel Film & TV School in Jerusalem, Vadim has gained experience working with top documentary producers and directors in Israel, France and the USA.
Why did you decide to enter the Canon Short Film competition?
“I got an e-mail about the competition and immediately I thought ‘this is something I should do’. I thought it was great opportunity to bring one of my ideas to life and to make a film that should not be missed. Sometimes it’s hard to find this kind of funding and support… if you have an idea finding this initial funding to be able to go out and shoot can be very hard because usually people are looking for something that is more or less developed.”
How did you get the idea for your film?
“I had first gotten familiar with the principal location of ‘Dirty Business’ a few years ago while producing the ‘State 194’ feature-length documentary. Since then this place has occupied me, with its strong vivid imagery and ambiguous moral implications.”
Please explain what the film is about – does it have a particular message?
“We tried to create an ‘economic documentary’, which would present a small ecosystem of resource distribution; a production cycle from its beginning to its end. The main underlying message of the film is interconnectedness and how easily a system can get distorted and put out of balance.”
Can you tell us more about the characters and narrative in the film?
“While pursuing making a film about a ‘cycle’ we tried to create a narrative flow that would follow that cycle… almost like a flow of natural elements, which are also an important visual component of the film. On each stage of this production cycle we meet the characters who help the viewer to understand the underlying nature of this stage.”
What were the challenges or surprises you faced when making the film and how did you overcome them?
“The main challenges, as it very often is with documentary work, was to gain the trust of the characters. People were very reluctant to participate, especially since what is at stake is their jobs and the well-being of their families. So it took a lot of effort, meetings and scouting to be able to penetrate their lives with a camera. This is where the main surprise revealed itself: most of the characters, once the ice was broken, communicated openly and naturally in the presence of the crew.”
Had you shot any previous projects with Canon cameras?
“No, this was the first time. But the DoP, Philippe Bellaiche, had worked with both the C300 and C500 and knew the cameras very well. It was his first time with the [Canon] CN-E [cinema] lenses, however, and he was very impressed.”
How long did the film take to shoot and what crew did you work with?
“It was a very, very, very long production for such a short film. We first planned to shoot in July 2014, but had to postpone due to the outbreak of the war in Gaza. After, we managed to shoot the locations in Israel in September. We had to wait until the situation after the war calmed down and planned to shoot in October in the West Bank but, due to problems with customs, we only got the equipment in early November. Overall we shot for six full shooting days, but each shooting day had about four to five days of location scouting, research trips, scouting with the DoP and tests.”
How did working with the Canon camera and lenses help you to shoot the film?
“We made a decision of shooting on prime lenses, because we wanted to achieve an observational, focused look; rich in both details and landscapes. It was also important for us not to make any camera movement to stress the neutrality of our point of view; the rationality of the economic prism that we have chosen to tell the story – this made the shooting quite demanding. It is not easy to set a good fixed frame shot on a prime lens when you have a situation to catch out in the field… so it took a lot of research, scouting and writing to know what exactly we would be filming and how.
We came to every shooting day with a script, a shooting script, and a common understanding of what needed to be conveyed. This made us prepared for surprises – having a clear shooting script in our heads both myself and the DoP, Philippe Bellaiche, were able to adjust quickly to unexpected situations without compromising our visual style. The range of the lenses (14mm to 135mm) allowed us to do so quite easily but, of course, we had to have an assistant DoP with us at all times, which is not usual for a small-budget documentary.”
How did you set up the Canon camera for the shoot?
DoP Philippe Bellaiche explains: “To work with the C300 and the Canon prime cine lenses was a great experience and a real pleasure. The lenses were sharp and not too contrasty. The camera set up was simply Canon Log (CP locked). The configuration reminded me so much of film I decided to treat the video camera as if [it was film], and used the combination of polarising and enhancing filters. The results were gently contrasted, but colourful like no other video camera I have been working with so far.”
What was the performance of the Canon camera like in terms of the quality of footage produced?
“We love the footage, although it was a tough decision to go for C300 HD output instead of the 2K or 4K output of C500. But, as we shot on very remote locations that can be accessed only once (especially in the West Bank), we could not risk having an external hard drive fail on us.”
Which Canon lenses did you choose to use and how did these perform optically?
“Canon CN-E lenses; a set of six prime lenses – from 14mm to 135mm – great lenses! We could not hoped for a better result and the DoP was truly happy to open the kitbag every time.”
How was the footage ingested and was this straightforward? How did the Canon camera fit into the overall workflow – input and output - of the film?
“The camera fitted into the workflow quite smoothly. We liked the C300 because it is very discreet in documentary situations when the characters cannot be distracted. It was very important for us as we could not move the camera or zoom ‘into’ the conversation. So we had to reach a point where we set up a frame, and hope that the characters would just forget that the camera is there and go about their business as usual.”
How did you record sound for the film?
“We recorded on the camera with external microphones through a mixer.”
What is your overall impression of working with the Canon equipment and would you use Canon cameras for future film projects? If so, why?
“We liked it; especially the lenses [which] were top notch.”
What are your plans for future film projects?
“I am developing a number of documentary projects. One of them is on the same subject as this short film (Israeli-Palestinian economic relations), but developed into a feature documentary.”