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An interview with BIG BAD WOLVES co-writer/co-director, Navot Papushado.

I was one of the lucky few to see Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s latest film, BIG BAD WOLVES at last year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival. It is now months later and my favourite film from the festival is finally getting a theatrical release. The Israeli film follows two men as they kidnap and torture a suspected child murderer. The horror escalates as the audience begins to question just whether or not the suspected man is actually guilty. I was fortunate enough to chat with Navot Papushado about his award winning film, audience reactions, and what it was like for his hero, Quentin Tarantino, to call BIG BAD WOLVES the best film of 2013.

BLACK SHEEP REVIEWS: While the film is so dark, due to it’s heavy subject matter, it still manages to be quite funny. Were you worried at all about how that would sit with people when making the film?

NAVOT PAPUSHADO: Ya, definitely. We knew the film was going to be be dark, and brutal, and violent, but I think it’s in our nature to play with the tones. I think in the last couple of years, you kind of expect horror films or even thrillers to have one tone; either it’s a thriller, an action film, or it’s a comedy, but there are no more genre blenders like we grew up on. In the 70’s you could go wild; they were funny back then and they still dealt with some pretty heavy stuff. Growing up on those films, we knew that we wanted to make something that had more layers to it and had more tones to it. From the start, we knew we wanted the audience feel more comfortable, until the uncomfortable stuff arrived. So in a way, for us, it’s a method to kind of lower the audience’s guards, and sneak into their hearts and minds, and then we hit them with the hammer and take their toenail off.


BSR: Speaking of the hammer and the toenail, that scene in particular is great. It was just slightly gruesome, but it didn’t turn into gory torture porn stuff like we see in the SAW movies, well except for the one toenail being ripped off of course. Was it always your intention to never make it too exploitative and gory?

NP: What’s funny about that is a lot of people don’t remember seeing the toenail and I think a lot of people turn away in that moment because of the expectation that is building. But that was always our intention. I think that now in the digital age, when you can pretty much achieve anything, any special effects, any digital effects, it’s pretty easy to do that. But we thought that it would be much smarter to take it to the much subtler side, building the expectation. Sometimes you imagine that you’re seeing things that you don’t. I think in this aspect, we learned a lot from the Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino. You don’t need to show everything but if you feel close to the characters, even the smallest thing hurts. Just breaking a finger, you don’t have to break the whole leg or hand, just breaking one tiny finger could hurt more if you feel for the character and we wanted to lure the audience to come see a brutal film. We wanted to make a kind of mainstream torture porn, where a respectable audience could also come see something that is very extreme, and we also thought about the Israeli audience, which is not prepared yet for a film like SAW, which we have no interest in doing.


Keshales (left), Papushado (right)

BSR: Horror isn’t really a popular genre in Israel, and I know that the film has earned so much acclaim internationally, so how was the response in Israel?

NP: You got it totally right; I mean horror films do not do well in Israel, even the big franchise films coming from the US. I would say if a horror film in Israel brings 10,000 viewers, people are opening champagne bottles and celebrating, because it’s rare. But two years ago, we released RABIES, which was the first Israeli horror film. We had an A-list cast and we were able to bring almost 33,000 people into the theatres and it kind of gained a cult status. With BIG BAD WOLVES it was completely different. First we screened at Tribeca, and then it was acquired by Magnolia. All of a sudden, all the festivals just lined up for us, and the reception in Israel was amazing. We feel so lucky about that. The film was a blockbuster in terms of an R-rated film and in terms of a regular film. We won five Israeli Academy Awards. We were nominated for eleven, only one film was nominated for twelve, and that was why we sent that one to the Oscars. For eleven weeks it was at the number one place at the critic’s table, and then GRAVITY came and we are very happy to give first place to Cuaron and his wonderful film. We also won the Israeli Critics Association award so it was amazing for genre films in Israel. Everything that it does internationally really echoes into Israel. The journey of BIG BAD WOLVES has changed, and is still changing everything in the Israeli film industry. Now everyone wants to make genre films. You’re going to be seeing a lot of genre films coming out of Israel over the next couple years.


BSR: You mentioned before that you were inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s films. He said that BIG BAD WOLVES was his favourite film of 2013. Do you know where he saw the film, and what was that like hear that from a filmmaker who inspires you so much?

NP: Aharon always jokes about it and says it’s like meeting Elvis and Elvis saying to you, “Hey man, you can sing!” For us that was pretty amazing. Aharon and I flipped a coin to decide who would go to which festival. Aharon got to go to the Chicago Film Festival, and I got to go to the Busan Film Festival. Aharon called me from Chicago and said, “Listen Navot, Nicolas Cage and Quentin Tarantino are in Busan. Try to get one of them to watch the film.” And I was like, “How am I going to do that? It’s a huge, huge city.” And he said, “I don’t know Navot. Use your karma, use your magic.” It was pure luck. Fifteen minutes before the screening this girl from the festival came to me and said, “Do you know Mr. Quentin is in town?” and I said “yeah”, and she said “He would like to talk to you before he sees your film.” And I was like, “OK”. He ended up watching the film, I was in the audience when he raised his hand and waved. It was a very nerve-racking situation to know that Tarantino is sitting in the same theatre as you watching the film, staying for the Q&A. I can’t tell you how happy we were that he was even there, and how happy we were when he liked the film. But saying it was his favourite film of the year? We could never dream of that. It puts the whole journey into perspective and reminds us how humbling this journey has been for us and how grateful we are. That’s one of the biggest compliments we have gotten so far.


BSR: Is it true that you and Aharon and in line to do a segment for the anthology film, THE ABC’S OF DEATH 2, and if so, can you tell us anything about it?

NP: The first rule abOut ABC’S OF DEATH is that you don’t talk about ABC’S OF DEATH, I mean, they signed us on so many contracts that we are not allowed to say anything. But we are doing it, we’re done, we’ve made it. It turned out really good and we are really happy with it. I think it’s going to be very us. It’s very Israeli in a way, but I think everyone is going to love it. That’s it, I’m not sure how much I can tell you. They’re going to assassinate me if I blurb too much.

BIG BAD WOLVES is currently in limited release and playing in Toronto at Cineplex Yonge and Dundas. You can read my original Black Sheep review for the film by clicking here.

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