Tali Yankelevich's Bridging the Gap short The Perfect Fit is currenty on the Oscars shortlist for documentary shorts and nominated for tonight's Creative Scotland Awards. She is also just finishing a film for Why Poverty?. SDI's Agata Jagodzinska speaks to her as part of our mini series following up with former participants of SDI's flagship shorts programme.
Congratulations on the shortlising of The Perfect Fit for an Oscar nomination. Where did the idea for the film came from?
It came from an internet article I found while I was researching an idea for a ballet documentary. For a long time, I had been wanting to make a film on the topic, but I never found an approach I felt was original enough, since so many films have been made about classical ballet. Also, a couple of years back, I researched an idea about instrument makers, specifically on the craft of violin making which I found fascinating. Later it occurred to me to look into the story behind the making of ballet shoes.
When I started reading about it, it really moved me on a personal level. Even though I was trained in classical ballet when I was growing up, it never occurred to me that the shoes could have been hand-made. And it is a contradiction, as the shoes are so beautiful but at the same time cause so much pain for a dancer, and you cannot dance without them. And knowing that there is someone on the other side of that story, making those shoes with their hands, and damaging their own hands to try to make them more comfortable, is really intriguing.
After reading the article about the shoe factory, I immediately wanted to make the film. As documentary makers I think this is what we look for, as we investigate the world around us: a story which is universal and also unique, and that is hidden in places we often do not pay any attention to, where there is drama, beauty, mystery and humanity.
You once mentioned that at the start of Bridging The Gap you wanted to make a slightly different film, establishing a strong direct relationship between the cobbler and the dancer, which was impossible due to the timing you had for the production. Are you happy with the way it turned out? Would you do it differently now?
Yes I am happy we managed to complete the project and finish the film! We had quite a few problems on the way there, so it wasn't an easy journey. I am lucky I worked with a great and very dedicated crew who helped me to get there.
Now it is still difficult for me to see the film objectively, as I will always be very close to the material and will keep seeing my own mistakes. When you make a short, you really don't know what to expect after you finish, and the fact that it has travelled so much and been seen by so many people is really incredible. So yes, I am happy with how it turned out in the end!
For directors, it's always a story of missed opportunities
In filmmaking – and especially in documentary filmmaking – you are just constantly working with limitations and unexpected events. I remember my tutor used to say that in the eyes of their directors, documentaries always tell the story of missed opportunities. And I think this is very true. We are always complaining about the shots we missed, what happened when the camera was not there, or what would we have been able to do with more time and more money.
Originally, I wanted to tell parallel stories of Patrick the shoemaker and one of the dancers he makes shoes for, and explore a direct relationship between the two characters. This was hard to orchestrate with very limited time. But it all turned out well in the end, as I had met the Edinburgh-based dancer Denise Stephani who's featured in the film. Denise is a very experienced dancer, she told me stories about the start of her career dancing in ballet companies which were truly moving and fascinating.
Did getting shortlisted for an Oscar nomination change anything for you?
Not sure anything has changed for me so far. But my father has given me a break from asking, "When will you get a proper job?" I feel I got some time off that question for now. Not sure how long it will last, but I give the Oscar shortlist credit for this!
I really hope this shortlist will be a good push to get my feature project off the ground, which will be a longer film based on the same concept of The Perfect Fit, something I have been developing since completing the short.
Overall, I'm still struggling like everyone else in the documentary world, battling in search for funding for new projects and searching for ways to make a living at the same time!
You went through Bridging The Gap right after graduating from the Edinburgh College of Art. Did it help you in any way in finding your style and shaping your filmmaking career?
Absolutely! I think Bridging The Gap was the best opportunity I could have possibly had after graduation. Firstly, because I was making a film in an environment I felt so comfortable with. Being an ECA student, I attended masterclasses by the Scottish Documentary Institute in all the years I had been there.
So I already knew everyone at SDI well and it was just great to be given the opportunity to work with them. It really was the perfect way of getting a taste of what the professional world is like, providing a great transition for someone like me, coming straight from being a student. I got to work on an idea and concept I felt very strongly about; I worked with a professional crew for the first time; I had a budget and a tight deadline. It is a great learning process. SDI provided me with all I needed to become part of the documentary industry.
Why Poverty? is a worldwide film project to raise awareness about global poverty. How did you get involved in it?
I found out about the Why Poverty? series through my good friend Mariana Oliva, also a graduate of the Edinburgh College of Art. She is also Brazilian and the one responsible for keeping me working, and busy!
Mariana works for TAL (Televisions of Latin America), and they helped organise a workshop in Sao Paulo with the producers of Why Poverty?. So I applied for it with an idea and got eventually commissioned to do one of the short films that are part of the series. It was actually a similar process to Bridging The Gap.
When and where can we watch your film for Why Poverty?
It's called A Girl’s Day will be online in a couple of weeks on their website. The film is about a day in the life of a 15-year-old girl growing up in a house where she shares a room with many members of her family, and there is no private space.
We have just shortlisted a group of filmmakers for another year of Bridging The Gap, is there any advice that you’d like to give to them and other filmmakers taking part in similar programmes?
I would say to them that they should be thrilled to have been shortlisted! I’m not sure I am experienced enough to be able to give advice... All I can say is every time I start a new project, I think over and over why I should make this film. What is it in that specific idea that is worth exploring?
We should all stop making films, said Kossakovsky
I remember a masterclass with Victor Kossakovsky earlier this year where he said we should all stop making films! One should only make a film if one cannot live without filming. I think about his words often, and I think it is very good advice. There are zillions of films being made everywhere, all the time. I think is important to ask: why one more film? Why is it important to make it? And I don’t think there is an answer for that, but the exercise of questioning is important. I think it is essential with any project to really find a personal honesty and an urge of what you want to say and investigate through that film, only this will make it unique.
Good luck for the Creative Scotland Awards tonight and for the Oscar nominations to be announced on 10 January.