Cinematographer Omer Lotan talks passion for his craft and making movies with a purpose

As a teenager in Tel Aviv, Israel, Omer Lotan was drawn to telling stories, intrigued by the idea of making movies. He was fascinated by the way filmmakers could translate everyday stories and situations into beautiful images, excited by the way films can make one feel a variety of emotions with simple tools. He knew that he wanted to spend his life creating impactful films like those he admired growing up.

Now, Lotan is a sought-after cinematographer in his home country and abroad. He is best known for his work on the award-winning films The Visit and Remains, the viral Privacy commercial for Viber, as well as Israeli singing sensations Moshe Peretz and Nasreen Qadri’s popular music video “We Were Two”.

Another critical success story for Lotan was his 2017 drama Inner Flame. It follows Gali, a deaf dancer who dreams of a career as a fully-fledged dancer in a professional, well-known and well-regarded dance troupe. The troupe has never had a deaf dancer before. Filled with excitement, hopes and fears, Gali arrives at the troupe's tryouts day, and decides to proceed without any accommodations or barriers. Gali chooses to conceal her deafness from the examiners and other dancers, to fight for her place on an equal footing.

The film was developed and produced as part of the “I to Eye” project – an incubator/lab for deaf people who want to become filmmakers. Vidi Bilu co-wrote and directed this special project, inspired by the participant’s stories. The idea of this project was incredibly interesting and exciting to Lotan, both for its social importance, and also as a professional challenge as the film had very little dialogue and therefore heavily relied on the visuals.

“Due to the uniqueness of the project, I think all of us on the crew learned a lot about the difficulties of deaf people in general, and more specifically in filmmaking. I think that the “I to Eye” lab is an amazing initiative, which opened up new possibilities for a big community and I hope that it continues. The power of the visual image became clearer to me, and I think that the work on this project sharpened my storytelling skills,” said Lotan.

Most of the film takes place in a dance studio with almost no dialogue. The film was shot on the third floor of a real dance studio. The location meant Lotan constantly had to control and shape the sunlight coming from the big windows surrounding the studio, especially since the film had to look as if it was happening in real time.

Bilu and Lotan knew the challenge was to deliver the emotional journey the heroine goes on, through her intense dancing audition, without relying on the spoken word. Lotan’s experience in shooting many music videos was beneficial because of this, and he opted to use the dancers’ choreography in synergy with his camera movements to intensify the representation of the main character's tension.

“Even though it was the first time for us working together, Vidi and I had a great collaboration. I enjoyed brainstorming with her throughout our pre-production meetings, discussing the visual language of the film, as well as working together on set. Vidi has a lot of experience as a director, and I learned a lot from her, but she is also very open minded for new ideas, so the creation process felt very fertile and productive,” said Lotan.

Inner Flame was first shown in 2017 at the Haifa Film Festival, and two months later had its official premiere at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. It then had a special screening in the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, and received a special mention from the International Jury in the Terni Film Festival in Italy. It also screened in the EPOS Festival at the Tel Aviv Museum, and SHEKEL's Reframing Reality Festival in Jerusalem. The awards, of course, were nice for Lotan, but they were the secondary reward compared to how the film resonated with the deaf audience.

“At the end of the pre-premiere screening, when I saw how emotional and moved the deaf people in the theater were, I knew I had accomplished my goal. Without subtitles or sign language, and only with images and light, we delivered both the narrative and emotional story and had achieved what we had set out to accomplish,” he concluded.

By Annabelle Lee
June 18th, 2019

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