It's so much more than a sand thing; indeed, this sabra Spielberg wannabe knows all too well the do's and dunes of making it in the film business.
Correction. "No, I admire Steven Spielberg; he's a genius. I am not a genius. I want to do good films, but I only hope to be thought of as a really good director one day."
Tal Avitan is poetic more than in name only; he transcribes the hurt and hope of people, both personal and public, on screen in "The Wounded City," his short film about two kids whose lives are upended by a Kassam rocket. It is a film that flickers with talent and has attracted attention worldwide.
But then again, so has Avitan. Yet the most important following he may have is that of an organization that took him from the staggering real-life drama of trouble scripted in Sederot to a rewrite with a better, more comforting coda.
Lights! Cameras! … AMIT! The "world's leading supporter of religious Zionist education and social services for Israel's children and youth" may very well be this "boy's best friend."
However, this is no mere pet project. The group, whose regional chapter recently hosted the filmmaker at a special function held at the Merion home of Amy and Elliot Holtz, holds out hope for youngsters like Avitan, a graduate of AMIT Beit Hayeled and its youth village of Kfar Blatt, in its bid to abet kids from impoverished and shattered families.
Nothing could be more shattering than the bomb of bad news exploding right in the midst of Avitan's upbringing. Hollywood could have scripted the saga with tears running down each page. It is a story of sorrowful twists and turns that would have had Oliver Twist, bowl in hand, saying, "Please, Sir. No more!"
Indeed, if Dickens had spoken Hebrew, he might have written this tale of two systems: one, in which life was broken and bereft; the other promising and plentiful.
Slumdog minyannaire? In a way: The impoverishment Avitan fed on was emotional: Growing up with a drunk for a father who had a house credit at the local prison and eventually committed suicide, and a mother who had her aprons tied and hands full raising five children, Tal tellingly had a tough time of it. He felt life had ambushed him. Until he met AMIT.
"What they have done for me … they have designed my life," he says in broken English filled with smiles. "They allow me to make a name" for himself "so that after I die, something lives on."
To life, to life, l'chupah; the 26-year-old recently married a beautiful still-life photographer who is still awaiting him to edit their video wedding album. "What they say," says Avitan, searching for the right words, "a shoemaker has his children go without shoes because he works so hard."
Well, she is his soul mate. And if she gives him an extra boost toward his goal, he is ever grateful. After all, Avitan at one time was a net prophet.
"I once dreamed to be soccer player; I was very good at football," he muses.
But his field of dreams switched to the screen 10 years ago. And the young man from a background he had no control over suddenly found a field "that I can control what I want to view."
From POW to POV: From being trapped in a dysfunctional background to being released to a career in film. But, please, he protests, don't make him into a rags-to-riches comeback kid.
"I am no J-Lo from the Bronx," he says sweetly.
But his hood may have been more harrowing: "There are a lot of stories out about successful people from poor neighborhoods. Obama was a poor child."
But Avitan elects to go with his on screen. He is currently working on another film about his two younger brothers' passion for soccer; yet the latest is about his older brother catching a breather after a battle with drugs.
"And then I will look for other stories that don't belong to me," he says.
But now he belongs to the world, and the wounded artist shows his "Wounded Town" on a tour of towns without pity but appreciation for a talented young man whose goal is to snare some day the major award — named after Philadelphian Jack Wolgin — given at the Jerusalem Film Festival.
And then … time for it all to hit home?
"Maybe I [will] write a story about my life; nothing boring about my life."
"Who would play me?" He thinks.
How about Charlie Chaplain's on-screen avatar to act as Avitan? The Little Tramp playing the little triumphant.
"Robert Downey! Yes, that sounds good."
And as the sabra version of "let's do lunch" lingers a bit more, Avitan ingenuously — perhaps, ingeniously — adds, "You see him, you give him my offer!"