Sapir College graduate Efrat Corem explores the very personal universe of her hometown of Ashkelon.

“This is the kind of film that expects its viewers to have the patience to listen and watch, even if they don’t agree with what they see on the screen,” says Efrat Corem, writer-director of Ben Zaken, one of the first two films to come out of Sapir College, in the south of the country and very close to the Gaza Strip.

For the last five years, Corem was artistic director of Festival Darom (Cinema South Film Festival), an event organised by her alma mater and Sderot Cinematheque for the benefit of a popu- lation deprived of the film luxuries that abound in cities such as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa.

Cannes screened Corem’s first short film, Your Younger Daughter Rachel, in 2007, but embarking on a feature film was a completely different matter.

“Moving from a graduation short to a full-length feature was a major step, mentally. It took me no less than six years to write the script, and once I

met my producer, Itai Tamir, I needed yet another year to organise the pre-production, cast the picture and shoot it, though that was the shortest process of them all — only 16 days.”

The funds to complete the film, $335,000 (ils1.14m), came from several sources. “Israel Film Fund was one of them, the Gesher Fund whose purpose is to encourage productions in the periph- eries, added their contribution and even Festival Darom and my school, Sapir College

pitched in with a grant, which was very encouraging,” Corem says. Last year, she won another grant at Jerusalem Film Festival’s Pitch Point, which allowed her to move into the actual production.

The entire story takes place in one of the more deprived corners of her home town, Ashkelon, next door to Sderot. It is her very personal universe. “The elementary school you see is the one I went to; everything around there is painfully familiar to me,” she says.

The plot follows the relationship between a middle-aged single father and his 11-year-old daughter, and their respective attempts to break out of their circle of misery, just like all their neighbours.

“There is nothing heroic about the main character, barely making a living as a night guardian and still living with his own mother, at a loss to assume his responsibility as a parent,” she says. “Only when he is separated from his daughter does he really become a father in the true sense of the word.”

The entire cast consists of non-actors and her main goal was to make it all look almost, but not quite, a documentary, certainly different from any other film of this kind. Her minimalist approach means each scene consists of only one shot.

As for the future, Corem has no intention of moving out of Ashkelon, “This is my world and I want to go on exploring it. When you hold the ball in your hand, you want to take it as far as it goes.”