Eran Korilin is a novice director, having previously made only a single film for television, but the young Israeli has won national and international recognition with his first feature, “The Band’s Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret),” which has touched the hearts of viewers wherever it’s been shown and swept the major awards of the Israeli Film Academy in 2007.
Now the film is opening in the United States, and in an interview in Dallas during a promotional tour for it, Korilin said that the inspiration for the script came from his nostalgia about watching Egyptian movies on Israeli television with his family when he was a child, and programs featuring the Israeli Broadcasting Authority’s orchestra, which played classical Arab music. Those memories gave rise to a the gentle but touching story of an Egyptian police band that gets lost during a trip to Israel and winds up in a remote desert town, where they’re befriended by the local populace for the night before continuing to where they’re scheduled to perform.
“Basically it began with the image of the main character,” Korilin said—the outwardly stern conductor of the group. “Part of the process for me was exploring him and understanding where this first image comes from. And then in the process I remembered those Egyptian movies. This is where it all started, with the image of the man singing.”
But the development of the story, Korilin added, was very personal. “At the end of the day, a movie is a kind of picture of yourself,” he said. And his film’s combination of strong emotion and quirky comedy came from him. “There’s always a kind of contradiction between the more aware thing, open to the world and new cinematic language, and on the other hand there is this child inside of me who wants to do melodrama, big stories. But on the other hand, there’s a voice inside of me saying, be reasonable. There’s this kind of contradiction, which I like—it’s a correct picture of myself, [shifting] between those small, quirky, deadpan moments and those very heartfelt emotions that speak underneath and contradict it in a way. I like that shift.”
A sense of place in integral to “The Band’s Visit,” both in terms of the strangely vacant airport at the Egyptians’ arrival (“On the particular Wednesday when we shot it, there was just nobody there—it was very strange,” Korilin recalled), and, more importantly, at the town in the Negev Desert where most of the action was filmed. “It’s about two hours’ drive from Tel Aviv,” Korilin said, “just one of those small towns that were built during the fifties with the immigration. A lot of them were settled in those small towns in the desert, in this kind of communist architecture. They built them very fast, because there’s no lack of space. For me they are very moving in certain ways, because they’re kind of reminiscent of a dream that existed once and is incomplete.
“I have very strong memories of these places from my childhood,” Korilin added. “This desolation. Of course, there’s always a big difference between your memories and the way the place is. It’s evolved. So I shot it the way I remembered it, more than the way that it is.”
Korilin is pleased by the warm reception his film has received wherever it’s been shown, but not surprised. “In terms of human behavior,” he said with reference both to the story and to peoples’ embrace of it, “I think that people are much the same all over.”
But in that regard Korilin regrets that an Egyptian ban on Israeli films prevents it from being released there. “There’s no way of getting the movie screened in Egypt. Maybe at some small academic center, but not formally,” he said.
He added, though, that the inability of Egyptians to see “The Band Visits” was just a small part of a much larger problem. “The bigger shame is in the region, you know,” he said. “I wish it could be screened, as I wish a lot of things would open up.”