Former English teacher turned screenwriter-director, Matan Yair, has used his own life experiences to poignant effect in his debut, award-winning Israeli feature film, Scaffolding.
Troubled student, 17-year-old Asher is caught between the expectations of his oppressive father and the possibilities of a different life. While his father sees Asher as the natural successor to his scaffolding business, Asher’s gentle and inspiring literature teacher, Rami, encourages him to consider other alternatives.
Scaffolding is a drama about fathers and sons, male identity, class and opportunity. The film won best Israeli feature at the Jerusalem Film Festival and subsequently received three Ophir (Israeli Academy Awards) nominations. It will have its UK premiere in London later this month at Raindance, the UK’s largest independent film festival.
The film is deeply personal, says Yair. During his ten-year teaching career, he came across many challenging students for whom education was not a priority, he explains, speaking on the phone from Israel. “I taught the kind of classes where kids came from difficult backgrounds — some had emotional problems and some had difficulties with studying. The aim was to avoid the kids being on the street — to try and get them a High School diploma.”
Yair wanted to believe that he could inspire his students, that there was a purpose to what he was doing. At the same time, he was only too aware that once they left school it would be the end of their education.
“I asked myself what was the meaning of all these lessons, what was literature for these kids.” He used writing as a means to make sense of how he felt and began thinking of a plot for a film. Then he came across Asher, whose character and background inspired Scaffolding.
Asher Lax, a first time actor, plays himself in the way in which he moves and talks, says Yair. “I just used his strengths and wrote words that were easy and comfortable for him to say. I wanted him to react and be very natural in situations that were familiar to him.”
The result is an absorbing and emotionally raw performance. Yair hopes that Asher will continue to act and says he is interested in casting him for a future project.
Yair’s use of personal experience in the film extends beyond the classroom. He admits that there were periods in his own childhood and young adulthood that were difficult and affected his confidence. He recalls that when he was a boy and returned a book to the library, the librarian would ask if he enjoyed the book. That connection was significant, he explains, as it made him feel special and valued. Rami’s small gesture of introducing and explaining the newspaper to Asher, “moves something inside his world.” Although Asher’s father loves him, says Yair, it’s complicated. He believes he knows what’s best for Asher but he also, “closes the world to him.”
The film’s setting may be Israeli but familial relationships are universal, says Yair. “When I write and direct, I don’t think of an Israeli audience, I [just] think about people who are everywhere.”
Scaffolding screens at Raindance Film Festival on September 23 and 30
It will also be shown during the UK Jewish Film Festival, which runs November 9-26