When Arik Kaplun’s debut feature premiered at the ’99 Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival, it was everything he could have wanted. “Yana’s Friends” had the audience laughing and crying. They even stood and cheered. It was a triumphant evening.
It left Kaplun terrified.
“I was very scared it would never happen again,” he remembers. Despite winning the best feature award at the festival, Kaplun remained nervous through 16 more fest screenings around the world, even as audiences cheered the same way.
He only found relief at a showing in a cineplex in Israel, with an audience of Israeli Jews from all over the world. “The essence of different cultures sitting in this cinema hall, and in spite of the bad political situation in Israel, and conflicts and economic troubles, they are able to enjoy it, so I said, ‘Okay we’ve done it.’ I can go to sleep now before I do the next film,” he says.
The Hebrew- and Russian-language film takes a quirky look at life among Israel’s Russian emigres in 1990. Yana, a young Russian emigrant, moves in with a commitment-shy Tel Aviv videographer after her husband abandons her. When the pair are locked in a sealed room during Iraqi Scud missile attacks, love blooms.
“Immigration never is just a tragedy,” Kaplun explains. “It’s always tragicomedy. It’s a tragedy for the immigrant but for the residents of the place, it’s very often a comedy.”
Kaplun himself immigrated to Israel from Russia in 1980. Then a medical student, he had no intention of becoming a director. He spent several years exploring different lifestyles in his new country, even trying intensive religious studies. He says he was “too weak” to commit himself to Orthodox life, so he decided to study cinema and psychology.
He garnered a student Oscar nomination for his 1986 short “Solo for Tuba,” and has made several films for Israeli television.
When he is directing, Kaplun feels a visceral connection with everyone on the set. “The mood of each one of them can influence what you’re doing,” he explains, “So you need to have enough of yourself to keep each one of them, not to let them feel the lack of your attention.”
Once a lonely only child who told stories to get people to like him, the 41-year-old Kaplun is still passionate about storytelling. He likes all genres, and has a thriller and a science fiction project in the works. Right now he is writing a script with Rustam Ibragimbekov, who penned the 1995 foreign-language Oscar winner “Burnt by the Sun.”
“The most fascinating way for me to tell stories is in cinema,” Kaplun says. “It gives false powers that are actually feel on the edge of being real. I do what I want. I create the situation as I want it to be. I create characters as I want them in order to be loved or hated. I’m the boss. I’m totally in charge of my story.
“As far as my producers let me, of course,” he laughs.