The Movie Waffler Interview - AVIVA Director Boaz Yakin | The Movie Waffler

Interview - AVIVA Director Boaz Yakin

aviva boaz yakin
Boaz Yakin discusses his dance-fuelled drama.

Interview by Benjamin Poole

Director Boaz Yakin's impressionistic Aviva takes a timeless, universal love story and makes it an up-to-the-moment physical exploration of gender dynamics by incorporating exuberant dance sequences choreographed by former Batsheva Dance Company dancer Bobbi Jene Smith and brilliantly danced by Smith, along with former Batsheva dancers Zina Zinchenko, Or Schraiber, and actor Tyler Phillips.

aviva poster

Hello Boaz. Congratulations on your new film Aviva - it is quite something! I wonder if you wouldn’t mind outlining what you set out to achieve with the film, especially in regard to its presentation of gender?

Thanks very much, I appreciate the kind words. I have been thinking for a while about the masculine/feminine balance (or more frequently, imbalance) within the self, and how it affects external relationships. I had the idea of casting both of the characters in a romantic relationship, a man and a woman, with both a man and woman each... two characters played by four people, but couldn't quite find a way into it. I also was feeling like I wanted to do something that had dance in it. In speaking about the two desires with a friend who is an ex-dancer, he suggested putting them together... and I immediately understood the movie I wanted to make and set out to explore it.

Intriguingly, the film uses professional dancers in place of trained actors. How did you find the process of working with this cast? What qualities do they bring to the performances in the film?

I truly enjoyed the process. As they come from a dance background and are not for the most part trained actors, they were open to exploring and trying things that actors often hesitate to engage in, both emotionally and physically. The cast of Aviva, while sometimes showing their rough and untrained edges, in terms of the acting side of the movie, are also present and engaged in a way I often don't feel coming from actors who have done this a lot. Plus, of course, they are absolutely extraordinary dancers, which in a  movie that relies so heavily on movement and dance was a necessity.

Watching Aviva, I recalled what Judith Mackrell wrote about dance in 2004. She said, "Movement may be more powerful and subtle than text when it comes to capturing the visceral dynamics of movement, the sensual texture of experience. But it can present only the most generalised of facts, the most obvious of symbols, the most stereotypical of narratives. It can’t analyse, it can’t argue, it can’t contextualise." It seems as if Aviva is constructed to refute Mackrell’s ideas. Would you talk about how dance is used in Aviva in light of the above quote, perhaps talking about how movement creates meaning in the film?

One thing I would say about the movie (though not an actual response to the quote) is that Aviva contains both dance and text. Finding that balance was always tricky, because I didn't want to lean too heavily on one or the other, but tried to find a way for each medium to complement the other. But in terms of what Judith Mackrell wrote - I don't know! Honestly, who cares? I don't know what kind of dance she's been watching, when she says it can employ only the most obvious symbols and stereotypical narratives. I don't want to assume anything but it sounds like she spends an awful lot of time at the Bolshoi ballet or something. I have seen many of the pieces that the brilliant Bobbi Jene Smith, our star and choreographer, has made... and they are filled with subtlety and images that are both elliptical and very specific at times. It's a different medium than written text, of course... but I don't know why there needs to be a comparison or value judgment on it. Apples and Oranges. Painting and music and theatre all express the human experience in different ways, and different artists within those mediums express themselves through them in infinitely different ways as well.

You are a true veteran and survivor of the film industry Boaz, with quite an illustrious career. Nonetheless, Aviva feels an incredibly modern film, with its exploration of gender identity seeming very fresh. As the industry enters a very uncertain era - what with cinema chains shutting, Netflix subscriptions plateauing, franchise films dominating - where do you see Aviva fitting into this landscape?

I don't know. I think it's perhaps harder than ever for work that is at times experimental in nature and without big star names attached to find a place in the deluge of content to which we are exposed nowadays. But all we can do is try and believe in ourselves and each other and keep on doing work we believe in.

Imagine that Aviva was going to be a part of a triple feature. What other two films would you programme to show with it?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avengers Endgame. Just to see the look on the audience's faces when Aviva starts playing.

Aviva is on UK VOD from April 30th.