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Bringing compassion to the survival instinct

Shining some well-deserved light on a generation that we too often ignore

    Tender: Fire Birds is a JFF highlight
    Tender: Fire Birds is a JFF highlight

    Amir Wolf's Fire Birds, which premieres at the UK Jewish Film Festival next month, shines some well-deserved light on a generation that we too often ignore.

    After the body of Amikom, an 80-year-old Israeli man, is found with three stab wounds and a mysterious tattoo, police detective Amnon reluctantly takes on the case. Fire Birds entwines the final months of Amikom's life, filled with loneliness, sexual desire and a desperate need to feel part of a group; all emotions that are felt just as intensely by younger generations. Yet, rather than screaming and shouting about their problems, the older characters choose to approach their woes with elegance, strength and a sense of humour.

    At a time when much media coverage about old people is negative and fewer interesting roles are on offer for the that generation, it is no surprise that Wolf's refreshing screenplay managed to secure some of the most respected stars of Israeli stage and screen. Wolf explains: ''I grew up with old actors. I spent my youth watching all the old Hollywood films, studying everything they did. They have years on their shoulders which means years of experience and stories, we need to listen to those experiences with open ears and cherish them rather than merely forget.''

    In fact, 80-year old Oded Teomi, who plays leading man Amikom, has become one of Wolf's closest friends since completing the film. He explains, ''I've learnt that whether you are an 80-year old man, like Oded or a 30-something like me, nothing changes: desires, fears, confusion, they are felt just as strongly. So age is just a number - that's all."

    Wolf is keen to stress that Fire Birds is not a Holocaust film, yet the group of society that he has chosen to focus on is a particularly special sector, they are the remaining survivors; the last of their kind. ''The Holocaust cannot be escaped within Israel, even by someone from the third-generation, it is a scab that is truly prevalent within the Israeli ethos.''

    Instead of focusing on the tragic pasts of these characters' lives, Wolf introduces a group who have used their later years to find success, humour and a general zest for life. They continue to live within the romantic world of the Europe they remember pre-Holocaust. They dance the waltz, converse in Yiddish while indulging in Stollen and apple strudel. The characters find solace in the past while the world changes so rapidly around them. "The Europe they pine for is what keeps them happy. It may have never existed and it definitely is not a part of Israel today but it is what connects them as a group."

    Amikom is not part of the survivors club, he is an outsider pining to fit in. Wolf cleverly fuses comedy with his tragic quest to become part of, as one of the characters puts it, ''the most horrible club in the world.'' His desperation for friendship and acceptance is heart-breaking yet also recognisable; to feel accepted, appreciated and, perhaps most importantly, desired.

    Wolf's appreciation for his elders has not only been shown in fiction. After receiving funding from the Israeli film fund, the first person he recruited was his father, Itzhak Wolf. ''My father was my first cinema teacher; he is the ultimate film buff.'' Itzhak was raised by strict Polish parents, which meant that he was not allowed to follow his dreams of pursuing a career in film. Instead, he became a lawyer and it was only in his mid-50s that he decided to advance his passion and went to Tel Aviv University to study film. He showed great promise but financial struggles ensued causing him to give up on his dream. Wolf explains, ''as soon as I had the chance to follow my dream, my father's involvement was inevitable.''

    With his father at his side, Wolf has created a heartwarming, honest and comic film.

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