When Israeli filmmaker Lior Geller was a Tel Aviv University film student shooting a gritty 20-minute crime-drama called Roads in 2007, he never thought his short film would one day hold a Guinness World Record title.
Now, exactly ten years later, Roads has won the most awards for a short film in the history of cinema. Nominated for a student Academy Award, the film has played at over 100 festivals in 36 countries, winning a record 24 awards, including top prizes at the Jerusalem Film Festival, the Beijing Film Festival and the International Association of Film Schools. Roads, which was written and directed by Geller, tells the gripping story of a young Arab boy in Lod, a mixed Jewish-Arab city 15 km southeast of Tel Aviv, who dreams of escaping his violent drug dealing life and who is aided by an Israeli ex-soldier suffering from trauma.
“In the film I’m telling one child’s story,” Geller tells NoCamels. “I’m sure it’s not the case for all children in Lod, but in the process I had met some kids who really did dream of another life outside the neighborhood. This is not unique to Lod, to Arab-Israelis or to Israel. Go to any country in the world and you’ll find children who dream of breaking the shackles of a dead-end life.”
A record ten years in the making? Hardly
For Geller, the widepread and extended success of his film is quite unexpected.
“We shot the film in 2007 and I just recently received the Guinness World Record,” Geller tells NoCamels. “I didn’t set out to break any record. In fact, I didn’t even know of the record until I was told that I had set it.”
“The success of the film was always a very humbling shock to me from the very beginning,” Geller admits. “I was stunned when we won our first award at the Jerusalem Film Festival and was even more surprised that the film continued playing in festivals around the world and winning awards for so many years.”
Audience reception: Overwhelmingly positive
“I witnessed the universality of what I had thought was a very personal Israeli story,” Geller tells NoCamels. “From attending screenings in Arab-Israeli neighborhoods to inner-city youth programs in Paris, I was amazed by how the tale of a boy who dreams of a better life outside the disenfranchised world he is born into, crosses all boundaries of culture and language. And how a soldier coming home faces similar obstacles and hardships, no matter where in the world ‘home’ for him really is, be it an Israeli sergeant returning from Gaza or a US veteran coming home from Afghanistan.”
Inspired by Scorcese, compared to Tarantino
Critics have hailed the film, with one reviewer even going so far as to compare the style of Geller’s Roads to that of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s popular, but violent Reservoir Dogs.
“With my incredible crew, we had discussed films we loved and were inspired by such as the films of Scorcese, Samuel Fuller and the Dardenne brothers. Most young filmmakers are inspired by the works of great directors and naturally those influences seep into the next generation of filmmakers.”
Coming Soon: An American version of “Roads”
Geller grew up in Highland Park, New Jersey and Tel Aviv, Israel. He studied film at the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University. Since he made Roads he has sold three feature scripts as writer, edited over 75 movie trailers, directed 12 hours of network TV including a six-episode doc/reality series and an Emmy nominated German-French-Israeli feature documentary. Recently Lior directed 16 episodes of the CW’s unscripted series Hatched Season 2 and a feature-length true crime documentary about an incarcerated veteran. He is currently in development of his first feature film as director.
“Having grown up in Israel and the US, I definitely feel a strong connection to both places,” Geller tells NoCamels. Geller is now preparing to shoot an American feature adaptation of Roadsset in Washington DC. “It tells the story of a Hispanic boy who dreams of escaping the gang-infested streets of DC and is aided by a US veteran returning from the war in Afghanistan. The story is based on Roads but it deals with timely issues that are quintessentially American such as immigration and PTSD among US veterans.”
“When I met with returning American soldiers we realized that we shared very similar combat experiences, we’ve fought a similar enemy, with nearly identical tactics and weapons. But US veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffer the highest rates of PTSD of almost any western military. Post-traumatic diagnoses in the Israeli army stand at about 1 percent while in the US it’s as high as 25 percent. US veterans are returning to a nation that has arguably never been more divided, at least not in their lifetime. Soldiers and veterans are hurting because this country is hurting and their story needs to be told, which is why I was drawn to this specific story.”
“A golden age” in Israeli cinema and TV
Regarding the current state of Israeli filmmakers, Geller is upbeat.
“Undoubtedly we are currently seeing a golden age in Israeli cinema and television. Israeli artists have been recognized here in the US for several years now and I would say that there will definitely be more Israeli filmmakers bridging the divide between the US and Israeli film industries.”
Best advice: Work harder, be good
As for advice to budding filmmakers, Geller says, “The best advice I ever got was to simply work harder than anybody else and be a good person. The worst advice I ever got was that to succeed you need to go to parties and meet the right people. If you work hard, the right people will come to you.”
Watch Roads in its entirety here:
Photos and videos: Courtesy of LiorGeller.com