Originally from Jerusalem, filmmaker Dalia Castel tried to find her place in different cities: Tel Aviv, Rome and finally Berlin, where she settled in 2005, even though the question of belonging wouldn’t stop nagging her.
Despite her choice to leave Jerusalem, it never really left her. So, in 2011 Dalia and her friend Orit Nahmias went back in search of an explanation for why their hometown would still haunt them so many years later. The outcome, Jerusalem for Cowards, is an award-winning documentary about a complex—if not contradictory—city, but also about revisiting one’s own roots and putting them into question. “Making this film made me dismiss the concept of belonging entirely,” says Dalia.
Alongside her endeavors in documentary filmmaking, Dalia has been a long-time contributor at FvF Productions, having edited various client projects and video portraits over the past five years. Besides that, Dalia also dedicates time to photography and her newest collaboration will be a dance production.
“Not wanting to intrude is my biggest challenge. To be able to communicate honestly what I want ‘to take’ from my protagonists so that they will feel safe enough to want to give it to me.”
Dalia, can you tell us when and how you became interested in film? Were there any influential movies you recall from your childhood, before you decided to study film editing in Tel Aviv?
When I was a teenager the Jerusalem Cinematheque had an annual ticket that cost close to nothing. Whenever I could, I would go three times a day and see everything they showed. Like every gloomy teenager I liked Italian Neorealism and French new wave and American cinema from the ’70s. But I also liked indie stuff like Hal Hartley, Jim Jarmusch, Wim Wenders. Actually, if I were to choose my favorite film of all time it would probably be E.T..
What other means of expression do you use apart from film?
I love still photography. I started taking pictures very early—I used to walk around with a camera all the time, I had a dark room and spent lots of time developing and printing stuff. Studying editing was a direct continuation of this.
What has been a memorable project that you’ve worked on for FvF Productions?
There are two big projects, one for C&A and one for Siemens that were memorable because of their sheer dimensions. We worked with three or four editors in parallel and it was a bit like a computer game swapping hard drives between us and keeping an overview of the whole thing. But, what I like even more are portraits. I enjoyed working on the portrait of Ansgar Oberholz and I also participated in the editing of a video about Sevil Peach that I found really interesting—from both projects I started seeing working spaces in a different light.
What are you doing when you’re not editing video content for us?
I’m doing my own films and trying to explore new ways of expression with no strings attached to a workplace. I have a collaboration with Corinne Kitzis, called Mull and Kiez, producing animation content for social media. I’m working on a documentary about Jews in Iceland, and lately I started to work on a dance performance. I already made a lot of videos that had dance in them or were connected to dance, but in the last six months I have been working on an actual dance piece with three performers (Eli Cohen, Adaya Berkovich and Tamar Grosz) and a set designer (Janine Iten). It’s a very challenging project for me, I am learning a whole new vocabulary—and I love it.
Have you always worked as a freelancer and if so, what do you appreciate about it?
Yes, I always worked freelance. What I like about it is the fact that it allows me to work on things that I choose, it gives me time to do my own stuff, spend time with my kids and not have a fixed routine. I like to face a new type of project and a new kind of challenge every time.
Are there any daily rituals that you place importance on?
Not really. I am not a very disciplined person in the sense of keeping habits. I admire people who have them but I actually like the freedom or at least the illusion of freedom.
What is the idea behind Mull & Kiez?
It started when I volunteered to help Corinne (Kitzis) with a project she did. I was curious to do stop motion and to see how it works. This first project led to another one and another one… We did a series of ads for the Tel Aviv town hall and lately for the Israeli film archive. It’s a great collaboration, very playful and exploratory.
You’ve also done a few music videos. What draws you to this type of work?
I love music and its combination with image. Also, the possibility to tell a story in a relatively short time and trying to have every shot as precise as possible in order to tell a clear story. I did three videos together with Rut Sigurdardottir. Working with her on the precision of the images (akin to my work in photography) was a great experience. Another video was an experiment with Rotoscoping (an animation technique). I wanted to understand how it works so I drew a bit and only later my friends from Cero39 asked me to make a video for them with this material.
Recently you presented Jerusalem for Cowards, a feature film you created in collaboration with Orit Nahmias, at the FvF Friends Space. Could you tell us a bit about the background of this project?
Both Orit and me grew up in Jerusalem, and had very mixed feelings about the city. A love–hate relationship. I already lived outside Israel for many years when we started working on the film and I carried with me many questions about not having a feeling of belonging, both in general and with Jerusalem specifically. I felt that this problem that I have, of not really feeling that I belong to the place where I am from, was an obstacle for me. So I asked Orit, who has a great talent to define things and put them in words, if she wanted to do this film with me. We started researching by asking our friends and family from Jerusalem about their feelings and after we had collected some answers we started building the framework for the film. We challenged ourselves to go to all the places in Jerusalem that we felt we weren’t a part of. With this frame we went to Jerusalem and kind of “let things happen” there.
How did going back to Jerusalem (in motion picture) feel for you after having released this film?
Surprisingly, making the film helped me make peace with the question of belonging. It actually doesn’t have much relevance to my life anymore. I feel that I belong to the people I love. I feel that the language belongs to me. I can relate to some situations of sound and light that remind me of Jerusalem, but those are not things that one can grasp or possess or even explain—it’s something completely internalized.
What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced when making documentary films?
I guess not wanting to intrude is my biggest challenge. To be able to communicate honestly what I want ‘to take’ from my protagonists so that they will feel safe enough to want to give it to me. For example, their story, their honesty, their vulnerability—that’s maybe the hardest part. But this is also the magic of making documentaries. I think that in order to be honest and gain the access you need to open yourself up and give those things too.
Who would you like to see featured next on FvF?
I guess I would like to see my friends that are like family to me: Rut Sigurdardottir who is an amazing photographer and does cold water surfing, Hofesh Shechter who has an amazing dance company, Ori Alboher, a singer-songwriter from Jerusalem, and Dario Sendoya who built Casa B, a cultural creative center in Bogotá.
Thank you Dalia, for letting us take part in your multifaceted work life.
More about her award-winning film Jerusalem for Cowards and other freelance work can be found on Dalia’s website. You can also follow her on Instagram here.
For those curious to see who else we work with, take a scroll through our collection of contributor profiles.
Photography: Robert Rieger
Interview: Vanessa Oberin