Director deals with complex moral themes

BY CATE MARQUIS, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Vadim Perelman, director of the new film The Life Before Her Eyes, is a Ukrainian Jew who fled the old Soviet Union when he was 14, eventually landing in Canada. That immigrant experience colored Perelman’s first film, the acclaimed House of Sand And Fog.

“This film is kind of a celebration of life, a life that could be and a life that is, and how we live our lives and the choices that we make, that effect what our future is,” the director said. “It is a film about morals, but also about conscience.”

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Perelman’s father had been killed in an accident before he and his mother emigrated. At the time, Perelman was nine years old, an only child living with his parents and other family in an apartment in Kiev.

“I emigrated from the Soviet Union when I was 14. It took two years to get to Canada, my mother and I,” the director said.

Directing films was not Perelman’s childhood ambition. “Films had never been on my radar at that time. I was a reader, more into books. And I am still more of a reader.”

At college, Perelman majored in physics. “The way I discovered film was I was in University and it was an easy arts elective course, a Film 101-type of course. They showed us a ‘making-of’ film; it was the making of Fiddler On the Roof, actually. I remember the behind-the-scenes kind of look … and really falling in love with what I had seen in this documentary,” he said.

Filmmaking is structured and analytical, and might be compared to engineering. “An even better comparison is architecture, because you are actually building something,” said the science-minded Perelman. “There is an element of art and an element of science that goes into that. It is both — and you have a client. You want it to be beautiful, and make sense.”

Perelman’s love of literature plays a role in his love of filmmaking as well. “That is the only reason to make movies — to tell stories that affect people,” he said.

Perelman has plans for a future film with a specifically Jewish theme. “I definitely want to make a film about the Holocaust, specifically, about what happened at Babi Yar, in Kiev, my hometown, during the war,” he said. “This was the biggest massacre of the Holocaust, that happened in such a short time, it was literally three days, but 90,000 Jews were shot.”

While they were filming The Life Before Her Eyes in Connecticut, a movie whose pivotal point is a school shooting, there was an unsettling series of coincidences.

“The fact is that school shootings happened all the way through the filming, and the post-production of this movie,” said Perelman. “It was a strange coincidence, because the Amish school shooting happened, the Montreal shooting happened, Virginia Tech happened. It was very strange.”

“At the time we were shooting the bathroom scenes (in which the school shooter confronts the girls), there was the Amish shooting. There was a headline in the paper that said ‘Girl begs killer to kill her first,’ on the day we were shooting that scene,” he said. The headline mirrors events in the movie, in the scene they were shooting.

The director has definite ideas about what he wants to see in a movie. “When I go see movies, for me, it is not having easy answers, not having films that present everything on a plate to you, but a more active experience for the viewers,” he said.

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