17 Jan Q&A with Barak Heymann, Director of In Your Eyes
One of the biggest complexities with social media and YouTube of the modern age is that they don’t always show us the full picture. They are filtered, selective highlights. We may think we know about another person’s life through the glimpses they post, but that’s just what they have chosen to show us.
In Your Eyes, a 2021 Free Speech Film Award finalist, emphasizes this notion. Directed by Barak Heymann, the film follows four popular Israeli Youtubers as they reveal the lesser-known sides of their lives.
The captivating cast includes: Moti Taka, a popular singer in Israel who documents his first visit to Ethiopia with his mother; Lior Israelov, also known as Suzi Boum, a well-known drag queen who was raised in a religious family; Chen Halfon, a young mother of three in Israel who forges her path as one of few Orthodox youtubers; and Hannah Ziad, an Arab YouTuber with over half a million followers and a complex story of family loss.
American INSIGHT had the opportunity to speak with the film’s director, Barak Heymann from Israel. The following Q&A details more about his filmmaking experience and aspirations:
Free Speech Film Festival: Tell us about yourself. What drew you to filmmaking?Barak Heymann: I actually followed my brother Tomer Heymann. He started making films a few years before me and then, 20 years ago, we decided to work together on the documentary Bridge Over The Wadi about the first Arab-Jewish school in Israel. And this is how I got into this world.
FSFF: Your film shines a light on the lives of four popular Israeli YouTubers – how did you first get connected with them?
BH: A few years ago, I made an online documentary series called #Work In Progress about eight different Israeli YouTubers and their encounters with different social activists, which was very successful with more than four million views on YouTube. And then Google Israel wanted me to make another project for the International Tolerance Day but I didn’t want to do the same thing again. Like creating a second season. So I decided to change the format and instead of putting these YouTubers together with social activists, to focus on seeing and showing and presenting the unknown face of them.
FSFF: What inspired you to tell the YouTubers’ stories, and was it challenging to tie all of their unique backgrounds together into one film?
BH: What really inspired me was the realization that this YouTube world, which at the beginning I was a bit suspicious, cynical, and even snobby about, is actually for some of the creators a therapeutic place. For example Moti Taka, the Ethiopian guy, and Hannah Ziad, the Palestinian girl: Both of them have lost their beloved fathers and found their YouTube channels as the source of easing the pain. And also the Jewish religious woman Chen Halfon, and of course Suzi Boum, the drag queen, the gay YouTuber, are very great heroes as they do things which are completely not natural for their families. And as in many other films of mine, I’m always attracted to people who swim against the stream.
FSFF: What kind of change do you hope the film will bring about and inspire in its audiences?
BH: I hope the film will give the audience a better understanding of the values of tolerance and acceptance. Let’s take for example the mother of the drag queen Suzi Boum: she is unbelievable in her way of accepting all of her children who went so far from where she is coming from. Still she loves and supports them so much. This is a very important message to deliver to the world. And of course I hope that one day there will be a change of all the racism and discrimination in the Israeli society, either against Palestinians, gay people, Black people, women. All of these topics are part of the film and it’s so important to deal with them.
FSFF: Your film explores expression through many different themes, including ethnicity, sexual orientation and identity, gender norms, grief and family. Did your view of these topics change while making the film, or did you learn anything new?
BH: My view was actually not changed because I was already politically aware and active before I made this film. Actually, this is maybe why I made it. But of course I did learn a lot of new things along the way. Otherwise it would be boring to create it. For example going to Ethiopia with the Taka family, taught me a great lesson about belongings and about the generation gaps between parents and kids. And how far sometimes someone can be from his own identity just because he is so busy trying to fight the horrible racism around him.
FSFF: What would you say to a person who disagrees with your stance and the themes in this film?
I would tell the person that it’s never too late to change, to grow up and to open your heart. And that I invite him not only to watch my film but also to go into the YouTube channels of the heroes of the film and to learn directly from them how to be a bigger and better person.
FSFF: What advice would you give to your past self and to the younger generation about finding the freedom to express themselves, create and speak?
BH: I would tell them and myself that if my 20 last outgoing calls from my phone are to the same kind of people that are like me, then I’m in trouble and that I must find the way to enlarge and to deepen my social circles around me.
FSFF: Any new projects you are currently working on? / What do you see or hope for in your future?
BH: I’m making now a new documentary about ultra-orthodox Jewish people practicing Capoeira which is something very unusual and not much acceptable in their society. And recently I also started to work as the head of film department in Beit Berl College here in Israel.
For my future I just hope to keep finding amazing people like the main heroes of “In Your Eyes” that became so important in my life.
FSFF: Finally, a question we always like to ask: how important is it that everyone has the power of free speech?
BH: As someone who lives in a place where big parts of the population, meaning the Palestinians, don’t have the freedom of speech, or the freedom of movement, or independence, or any kind of justice, it’s obvious that this is one of the most crucial battles we have to fight.
To watch the trailer of In Your Eyes and learn more about the film, check out American INSIGHT’s 2021 Festival Highlights Page.
Director: Barak Heymann
Cast: Moti Taka, Suzi Boum, Chen Halfon, Hannah Ziad
Producer: Barak Heymann
Year of Production: 2019
Language: Amharic, Arabic, English, Hebrew
Photos courtesy of Barak Heymann.
By Kristi Szczesny, American INSIGHT Content Strategist