One small act can change someone’s life by sending them down a different path. As individuals, we don’t always think about how our actions might impact someone — whether good or bad — but Israeli writer/director Tomer Shushan’s Oscar-nominated short, White Eye, challenges viewers to do just that. The 20-minute short, shot in one take, tells the simple story of a young man (Daniel Gad) who stumbles upon his bike that was stolen days ago, and as he confronts the new owner — an immigrant just trying to get by — the situation spirals out of control. The film touches on universal topics such as immigration and the plight of refugees (an issue that many countries are currently having to confront), human compassion and understanding, and checking our privilege in certain situations. The direction, cinematography, and acting give “White Eye” a real poetic tension that makes the viewer feel like they are really seeing the world and situation through the eyes of the young man — it highlights the blindness of perspective and a situation that could happen to anyone. It reminds us to take the time to see how others live and maintain our humanity in an ever-changing and divided world.
We Live Entertainment had the pleasure to chat with writer/director Tomer Shushan about how art imitated life in White Eye, how it feels to be nominated for an Oscar, and what he has in the works.
LV Taylor/We Live Entertainment: Let’s dive right in…what do you hope people take away from this film?
Tomer Shushan: In the day-to-day life that we have, we sometimes confront people from different parts of society. I really felt that if I could bring that to the screen and let people see what’s wrong and what’s good and what is a good action, what is a bad action — what can happen if you just make the wrong choice — you can harm someone. That was the main message that I wanted to bring.
LV Taylor: So the film is done in one shot — there’s no music, only ambient street noise — and you really feel like you’re living in that moment. Was that a conscious decision from the start of the film?
Tomer Shushan: Yeah, I tried to make a film that would feel like a piece of life — just documented. I didn’t really want to use lots of music that can affect the audience or tell the audience what they were supposed to feel. I just wanted to bring a moment — a situation — and touch people with that.
LV Taylor: You were really able to convey that with the film, and that’s hard to do — what was the most difficult part about filming and why?
Tomer Shushan: Making it in one shot — that’s the whole thing. It was super challenging. I had to create a formula that can work for us. Together with the cinematographer, I had to think about building it and creating this dance for everyone — not just the actors — everyone had choreography for where they needed to go and when they needed to hide. To build this, to create it, to fail many times until you succeed was the hardest part. But also, I learned so much about it, about cinema, about rhythm — because this film is all about the rhythm — and it was a huge moment in my life to make this film and create.
LV Taylor: You touched on the actors just now — their performances were so great — how did you go about casting them and getting them involved in this project?
Tomer Shushan: I used mostly non-actors. I really wanted to bring the feeling they have in real life — the feeling that they are illegal. They wake up in the morning, and they are not legal where they live — no one cares about them, no one sees them — only the authorities and the police negatively care about them. I really wanted to bring this theory to the film, so I thought I should use real refugees that care about their community and want to bring their plight to the view of everyone. Doing it was also very challenging, but I also learned a lot about their community, their stories, and their lives that I didn’t have the chance to know so close before. The people who played the citizen’s parts were actors, but they just felt like they should do it. So with lots of meetings and lots of tries, I got myself a cast that brings all the messages and serves the story in the right way, just like I imagined.
LV Taylor: You talked about being able to learn about the refugee and immigrant community you were filming in — did you learn anything about yourself while going through filming White Eye?
Tomer Shushan: Part of the reason that I wanted to make this film was that I felt that this story affected me as a person so much — even though it ended up being much better, they didn’t take him, and he’s still here — the feeling that I had knowing that I made someone feel like his life was going to be ruined in a matter of seconds just because of a stupid bike. I couldn’t sleep a lot of nights because of it, and it really changed me as a person. That’s why I wanted to make this — maybe I can change other people in similar situations, maybe they will act differently and think about their actions and see that in front of them is a person — no matter where he’s from or whether they’re legal or not. We should always just treat each other equally. That’s the key to a better life, and that’s what I learned. As I said, this real story was my chance to make a film to give to the world and try to change something.
LV Taylor: That’s a crucial message — especially in the world and time we’re living in right now. So what was it that drew you to filmmaking?
Tomer Shushan: There so many things. I remember that my grand grandfather used to tell stories to people on Saturday night — everyone used to come to his place, and he would tell stories about his experience. He was born in Morocco, and he used to tell these stories in Moroccan, and I couldn’t even understand. But I saw how people reacted to it. As a child, I saw how he affected hypnotize people with stories and how he touched people by making them laugh or making them cry. I just told myself, ‘oh my god, this is what I want to do — I want to touch people like that — it’s so powerful. It was inside of me all the time, but I just remember when I was a teenager, I used to look out the window for hours — looking at people in the streets and creating stories about where they were going and where they came from. I used to create so many crazy stories. And then after my army service — I used to be a photographer in the army — I thought to myself, ‘okay, get wild, what do you want to do?’ I just want to tell stories — I love cinema — so I’ll try it for one year. I can retire if it is not for me. When I started to study it, I saw how crazy it is from the inside, and I just felt like it was a virus that I just got it, and now I have it for life. So I guess that’s the main reason — that makes sense, right?
LV Taylor: Yeah, it definitely makes sense. Bringing it back to your short, White Eye was a big hit on the festival circuit this year. And now it’s nominated for an Oscar. How does that feel?
Tomer Shushan: Oh my god, I mean, if you would have told me that one year ago, I wouldn’t believe it. I’d think you were lying. It’s a dream. I’m kinda speechless. But since we are in this business and it’s all about crazy stories — I need to be prepared for all of it (Shushan says with a laugh). It’s just so weird to hear it again and again — people tell me, ‘you’re an Oscar nominee’ and I’m like ‘what?!’ I can’t believe it, it’s so weird to accept it, even though it’s your life dream. But I still can’t accept it. I’m super, super excited, and I love every minute of it, and I’m really, really happy that this story that had intentions of touching a lot of hearts and change something made this amazing journey. I feel amazing about it, and I’m super, super excited to be a part of this amazing ceremony.
LV Taylor: So one final question for you — what’s up next for you?
Tomer Shushan: So at the moment, I’m developing two feature films. One is the continuation of the short film, and the other is a story that happened in my family. I’ll say it in a few lines — it’s about a guy that’s caught in Mexico with drugs and sent to jail, and his mother goes to rescue him. So I’m working on those two and a TV series that they wrote a few years ago — now I’m coming back to write it again. So I’m trying to manage between those three projects and keep the personal stories that I want to tell there. I’m not trying to do anything else, just focus on making the things I have a passion for.
LV Taylor: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. And congrats again on your Oscar nomination, and good luck in the future with everything that you’re working on.
Tomer Shushan: Thank you very much.