Winner of the Tallgrass Film Festival’s Golden Strands Award for Outstanding Documentary Film, Noam Osband’s THE RADICAL JEW profiles Baruch Marzel, one of Israel’s most notorious extremists. The American born Marzel was the leader of Kach, a far-right, extremist political party, and continues to be one of Israel’s most well-known political firebrands. Framing the film around a stark black and white close-up – both in style as well as topically – interview with Marzel, Osband uses the runtime of the film to efficiently not just provide a background on the man and his devotion to his cause, but also give a rare insight into the personal life, beliefs, and behavior of a person whose public profile is one of a terrorist, or possibl even a martyr, depending on your political views or loyalties to either Israel or Palestinians.
1 Was it difficult to convince Baruch Marzel to agree to being the subject of the film?
Somewhat. He’s a distant relative, so I wasn’t a complete stranger approaching him. That said, I’d only met him twice before briefly, and I flew to Israel without having spoken to him first. I arranged a meeting in a hotel lobby. He seemed fairly agnostic about the film, showing neither too much pleasure or unhappiness with the project. All he wanted was to know it wouldn’t take too much time and that I wouldn’t get in the way. Rarely have I met a film subject who really wasn’t too passionate, either for or against, a project.
2 What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
The biggest challenge was making a film that seemed as objective as possible, a film that didn’t tip my own hand as to my own feelings about the subject. I wanted to remove myself and my own viewpoints from the film because in that way one can better focus on Marzel himself and his own opinions, leaving the viewer free to make up their own minds about this controversial character. This is hard, and I hope I succeeded.
3 You have said that you wanted the film to be “a thoughtful meditation on extremism.” How did you specifically approach the style and making of the film in order to achieve that?
Precisely because I wanted it to be about extremism, I felt OK with Marzel being the only real voice in the film. Extremism is typified by a lack of nuance, and Marzel is not shy about his Manichean views of right and wrong. If I had wanted a nuanced portrayal of the town or the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict, I would have definitely needed more views. But that wasn’t my goal. Instead, I just wanted us to know how an ideologue perceives the world, and just letting the person speak is a way to do that.
4 Was there ever an ambition to broaden the scope of the film to make it feature length, and why do you think the shorter runtime served your subject better?
Only after editing the footage did I think, “Wow-this is really great stuff.” Shooting a feature however would have required a larger degree of investment from Baruch than he is likely willing to give. Moreover, it would have required spending a lot of time in Hebron and with the Israeli far right, and each of those, while fascinating, is also depressing to me in a lot of ways. I didn’t want to spend too much more time in that mental space. As is, lord knows what FBI watch lists I am on because this Jew has done a lot of googling about the Jewish Defense League from his Brooklyn apartment.
5 While at the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita, you spoke to me about your admiration for Errol Morris. Could you elaborate on why you are a fan of Morris and his work?
Morris is the documentary Yoda to me. What I like about him is the intimacy of his portrayals, something aided by his use of an Interrotron and the subject staring straight at the screen. That’s why I built my own Interrotron and brought it to Israel. I also like the way he doesn’t editorialize about his subjects, letting them speak for themselves. His documentary on Rumsfeld, to me, is far more damning than any polemic. There is something amazing about watching people piece together disreputable views and the mental contortions it sometimes takes to maintain them.
6 During Tallgrass’s infamous Karaoke blow out after party, you delivered what is possibly the most impassioned one-man performance of Bohemian Rhapsody I can remember seeing in person. Is that your signature Karaoke song or are there others in the Noam Osband repertoire that you pull out to dazzle the film fest fans, as well?
That is definitely my signature song, but I’d like to think my version of “Party in the USA” ranks a close second. Perhaps we’ll need another Tallgrass to see for sure….
THE RADICAL JEW will screen next at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival on February 13.