Actor-turned-director Tzahi Grad is a household name in Israel as a star of local film and television. With a reputation as a serious and self-assured actor, he decided to move behind the camera in 2001 to make his debut feature, Giraffes, in order to "control the language of cinema" as he puts it.
An unusual human drama, Giraffes was a big success at home, receiving 11 nominations at the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars, but Foul Gesture looks set to catapult Grad into the next league. It won the top prize at the Haifa International Film Festival last October before going on to wow audiences and critics at Spain's San Sebastian film festival in September.
Foul Gesture is a revenge drama about a middle-aged man, played by the film's co-writer Gal Zaid, who decides to take justice into his own hands when he becomes the victim of a road rage incident, but finds himself caught up in a world of political and mafia conspiracy.
The idea for the film came from Zaid after a similar incident happened to him and his family. He then worked on the script with Ya'ackov Ayali (who plays his cousin in the film), before bringing it to Grad to direct.
"I wanted to build things up slowly with the paranoia and frustration getting to him," says Grad. "The film does not encourage breaking the law, which was a point of concern for some potential investors in the film. Instead it is a warning light illustrating how close the breaking point is."
Grad is part of a growing number of Israeli film-makers in their 30s and 40s making a name for themselves on the international circuit, including Eran Kolirin, whose film The Band's Visit premiered at Cannes and has been picked up by Sony Classics. "We are seeing more producers, directors and writers getting a grounding in television and moving onto films, which are gaining recognition globally," says Grad.
That said, he struggled to find financing for the project, funding most of it through his own production company Tnuah Meguna, with the rest coming from the Israeli Film Fund, one of only two that exist in Israel, and the local cinema chain Lev Films & Cinemas. His sister company MH1, which co-produced Giraffes, came in with support to finish the film "The $500,000 was about half what I needed. But I was determined to make the film anyway," says Grad.
The final product is an impressive, gripping drama built on a strong script that keeps the central character's plight believable even when things get a little out of hand. Low-budget constraints mean the film's quality is a little grainy, but that should not put off the audience or potential distributors. The film has already been sold to Barton Films for Spain, Portugal and Andorra.