American-Israeli filmmaker Yaron Zilberman set off to shed light on the 1995 assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in “Incitement,” which world-premiered at Toronto in the Contemporary World Cinema section.
Nominated for 10 Ophir awards in Israel, “Incitement” charts the events leading up to the assassination of Rabin at the end of a peace rally celebrating the Oslo Accords and is told through eyes of the murderer, Yigal Amir, a promising young law student who progressively turns into a delusional ultranationalist.
“It’s one of the most traumatic stories in the history of Israel, along with the Yom Kippur war,” said Zilberman, whose last film was 2012 relationship drama “A Late Quartet.” “I was 27 years old at the time and it had a very strong impact on me and it was a trauma in Israel. So many taboos were broken by this murder … it was an attack on democracy and it was perpetrated by an Orthodox Jew,” explained Zilberman.
Zilberman said “Incitement” was a passion project to him but a very complicated one to make due to the controversial subject matter and the financing difficulties. “Incitement” didn’t receive any public funding from Israel and is being represented in international markets by the London-based company WestEnd Films, which also produced with Metro Communications, Opening Night and United King Films.
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Co-written by Zilberman and Ron Leshem (“Euphoria”), the movie took nearly four years to research and six years in total to get made.
“We interviewed everyone involved, from the assassin, to his family, the head of the security services and police investigators, and we watched hundreds of hours of archival footage to explore all the facts, clues and events that weren’t necessarily known,” said Zilberman.
“Incitement” explores the psyche of Amir but Zilberman said he didn’t want to sugar-coat anything or try to trigger some empathy for him. “When you set off to portray an assassin as a human being, you walk a thin line and can’t fall into any trap along the way. We wanted to approach the events in the most authentic way possible and show that Amir wasn’t crazy loner,” said the filmmaker. The film goes to show that Amir, who is now serving a life sentence, was incited by rabbis from the settlements to carry on the crime.
“A lot of people believe the assassination was the result of some conspiracy but it’s nonsense. When you follow the story you see there’s no conspiracy, and that Amir received religious approval to kill Rabin and pursued the task, bought the gun and fooled security and proceeded to [kill],” said Zilberman.
Zilberman said he still can’t believe that none the rabbis who are believed to have influenced Amir were arrested, but said he thinks Shimon Peres, who became prime minister six months after the assassination, “let it go” because he was “afraid that the arrest of rabbis would spark of a civil war between the secular and religious people.”
Although the affair happened nearly 25 years ago, Zilberman argues that it still resonates today. “I hope that ‘Incitement’ will serve as a warning to us all as well as an appeal to take personal and public responsibility for preventing the discourse of violence, the path of violence and the destruction of democracy,” the helmer said in the press notes.
Asked about the fact that fewer Israeli movies are selected in key festivals and the ones which are tend to be financed outside of Israel, Zilberman said the current climate in Israel is “anti-culture.” Local institutions are “confusing criticism with hating the country but they forget that the role of artists is to mirror society.”
Zilberman is now working with Leshem on “Valley of Tears,” an ambitious eight-part series about the 1973 Yom Kippur War starring Lior Ashkenazi. The helmer/writer is also developing several projects, including one about the true story of a 7-year-old girl left behind enemy lines in the Carpathian Mountains during WWII.