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Interview with Tsipi Reibenbach. January 19th, 2003
by Gesine Stremple

Index:

City With No Pity is this film the logic continuation of Choice and Destiny and Three Sisters?
Maybe logic, yes, because I think, all three films are very personal. Choice And Destiny is about my parents and their memorie of the Holocaust and Three Sisers is about my mother and her two sisters, my aunts, and the trauma, and these people in these two films they are my family. A City With No Pity starts with me and them as immigrants in Israel, and is my personal story in this country since I arrived as a baby. So, maybe you can find a logic continuity. Parts of my biography are in all these three films. Its like a serie. Each film is a part.

When did you start shooting?
It was a coincidence that I fell upon the archaeological site which happened to be also my playground as a child and there was also the school and the house both vanished. No signs of them. While I was looking at this excavation I could not find traces of my memories as a child. Suddenly, I had the idea: There is a film here. So naturally I asked the people who were in charge there, if I could come with a camera. And they said yes, no problem, but you must be quick because in two months no matter how much we advance with the excavation, we will have to close. That was march 2000.

What did they find?
They found a town, 5000 years old, made of mud bricks, an urban society at the dawn of human history. Lots of Egyptian ceramics with signatures of the kings of the first dynasty in Egypt. The ceramics are made of mud from the Nile, 5000 years old, amazing. Because of these signatures and the lot of ceramics that they have found, its considered to be one of the most important sites in Israel.

So why did they close it?
The field was sold to someone who wanted to build a business center and there was no funding of the site. The law in cases like this is, the person who bought the place has to finance the excavation. So he closed it. Pressed them, to work quickly. So the manager of the site said I have to be quick too with my camera. At that time, when I had the idea I was not in production and you know, with my kind of ideas I never know if I will raise the money for production. I am never sure. So I had to decide. If I take a crew for one or two days of shooting, I have to pay these people, or do nothing and see what will happen with the production. But there were only two months. I decided to go and make these shootings I couldnt resist. I came with a crew while the people were working there and I came again on the day when the tractor was covering everything. This was May 2000. And then this material was lying there for half a year, which I found very frustrating. I asked myself why did I do this. Finally when I was already producing the film, I was most proud and happy that I did these shootings because I felt that they are going to be very correct and important for the film. I think I was right, these shootings are the prolog of my film. I came back to the covered site. Instead of a new business center I found heaps of garbage. You can see them in the film. (The rich buyer went bancroft) At another site in Lydda in 1996, while road constraction they found a magnificent mosaic of the 4th century and again covered that.

So we can see it now only in your film?
Yes. I used still pictures. It was very hard to trace them and I am relating to this in the film. Its a waste that people cant come and watch it.

Your personal memories of Lod or Lydda ...
Lydda is the name in the New Testament. In the Bible the name is Lod and this is how she is called in Israel. The British called her Lydda too and when the St George church was built in the 4th century it was called Georgiopolis.

Your memories of Lod did you excavate them too?
This was my intention. But, there was nothing to excavate because everything was ruined, nothing is left, the streets, the neighbourhood, you see, I tried, but I found everything was gone.

But the cinema, the cinema where you saw your first movies was not completely gone.
Its neglected abandoned and ruined. It stands there damaged by the weather and traspassers. A shelter for the drug users. Most of the roof is gone with the wind and the rain. The cinema is kind of a mirror to all that happened to this city. It breaks my heart when ever I think of it. Everytime I arrived during the shootings it was more and more destroyed.
The people changed, the population changed, every third person now is a muslim Arab. Once, years ago, there was friendship between the people, maybe 30 years ago. And now I found a very violent reaction.
They did not allow me to shoot. They were disturbing all the time. I was welcomed with a hail of stones. The cameraman was beaten up. And after that he was afraid of going out and shooting in the old city. He was afraid to step out of the car. He said, I am not endangering my life for a film. So I had to change the cameraman.

This hostility is documented in your film. Is this the reason you chose the title City With No Pity?
Its one reason. Not the main reason. This violence and hostility and suspicion is there because the city is the centre of drugdealing and crime of the country. So I come, I am a stranger, I am the outsider. Its a small place. People dont like strangers in a small place, especially whem I come with a camera. They are afraid. They fear that their children wont join the crime and drugs and also they are threatened by the criminals. If I came for drugs it would be okay, I would be welcomed. But I came to observe, I was looking for something they did not know and it happened in this city, that somebody who was complaining about the crime or criminals, the next day the person was shot They have no limits.

Who are the criminals and why do people in your film complain, police knows but does not do anything. You avoid things because you try to be polical correct?
No, I dont care or try to be political correct. Lydda in the very center of the country, 10 minutes drive from Tel Aviv has the potential of beeing a pearl. Instead, its an urban ruin with a history of 5000 years, most of it is underground. The police is working very hard and you see them in my film trying to arrest those drug dealers. But its an endless task. The film is the story of a filmmaker, coming after 25 years to visit her home town. While observing what is left of it she recalls her memories. The contradiction of the memory of the past and the cruel reality in the present is painful. The direction of the film was not a search in order to blame or find who or what is responsible for the situation of this city. This demands a totally defferent approach.
Most of the criminals are Palestinians. Yes. ist true, I did not want to blame the Arabs in this film. But crime started with palestinian collaborateurs people among the Palestinians who help the Israelis and some of them are in Tel Aviv and other places, many are in Lydda. These people have no limits. Ill tell you more: Half a year ago there were election in Lod. The elected major planed to wipe out the crime and change everything. He brought many policemen, he also got the support of the government. Five months after he was elected he died. He was 52 years old. They said he died of a heart condition. Im not sure this was the cause of his death. (This story too, I have decided not to include in the film I prefered to stay with the personal story).
So this is why I call my hometown which is also the hometown of St George, City With No Pity.

Again: Its a very complicated problem and I did not want to go into it in this film. I did not want to blame anyone. Its not a research/reportage film. I tried to give an experience, a sensual and emotional experience, so I have a completely different approach and I hope I succeeded.

Do you think Lod and the way you show it is a mirror the city, the siuation there, the hatred, the pitylesness, of the whole country?
Yes. A microcosmos. You see, this country was found 55 years ago, and my generation, all those who came with their parents from these many countries, were the basis for the society of the developing country. But before we all came here and before the Independence War, this country was inhabitad by arab people so when we came here, after l948 most of the Arabs left but some stayed. From the few thousand who stayed we have now more than a million, Israeli citizens. (another 3.5 million Palestinians live in Gaza and th west bank). And like in Lidda they come back. And they do not want us Jewish, to be here. The hatred, the hostility is now everywhere. Especially in the last two years and more openly after the 9/11 Event. The aim is: We should not be here. And in Lyddda the Israelis, start to leave.

But this, as you said, is not the subject of your film?
No. But it is there. Its the subtext, I keep it in the background, but it is definitely there for you to see. Through my personal story which involves immigration, endless wars and death and the sad story of this city, which has a fabulous past, I hope you can see the universal mirror.

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