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Behind the scenes of nostalgic, romantic film ‘Is it You?’

As the rain started to fall more quickly, film director Dani Menkin walked slowly around the parking lot of Crest Cadillac, his makeshift set for the day. He wore a blue sweater and jeans with a canvas fanny pack. As he walked up and down the lot, he frowned.

‘Who is in charge of the rain?’ he yelled to his crew. His face remained straight, but his crew members immediately laughed at his question.

‘That’s me,’ quipped Kirill Mazor, an editor, playing along. ‘Can I get a cut on the rain?’

This lighthearted attitude was abundant on the set of Menkin’s film ‘Is It You?’ June 1. The playfulness among actors and crewmembers continued throughout the day, and so did the rain.

Menkin and his crew are shooting scenes for ‘Is It You?’ in the Syracuse area from May 28 to June 10. It is scheduled to be part of the Syracuse Film Festival, held Oct. 11-14. Throughout the filming, there has been a sense of nostalgia and chemistry.

Despite the unpredictability of Central New York weather, Menkin remained unperturbed. Instead of letting it bother him, he reacted positively because it reminded him of a film he shot in Maine years ago.

‘This experience was so strong for me that I always dreamt that I would make a feature film in this landscape,’ Menkin said. ‘It’s almost like I smell the flavor of that experience when I shoot this film.’

Nostalgia was a popular idea among those involved with the film. The plot of the movie revolves around an Israeli man who is searching for his long lost love.

The main character, Ronnie, played by Alon Aboutboul, gets fired from his job and moves from Israel to the United States. There, he visits his brother, Jacob, a car dealer who gives Ronnie a Datsun 280zx so he can find Rachel, the woman whom he loved and never let go of.

Aboutboul felt challenged by the script due to the differences between himself and the character.

‘I never regret. I have no regrets,’ Aboutboul said. ‘And this movie is all about a guy or things, people that are regretting. In a way, because of this movie, and maybe even before a little bit, I started to really think about this. Why don’t I regret?’

Aboutboul said Ronnie and Rachel’s plight inspired him to look up a girl whose face he still remembered from elementary school in an act of reminiscence.

But Aboutboul’s most nostalgic moment derived from the movie-making experience came when he met Owen Shapiro, founder of Syracuse Film Festival. Shapiro went out with the crew the night after its first day of shooting.

The memory was from 20 years ago, when Aboutboul went to film school in New York City. He said he remembers sitting outside a professor’s office, waiting and staring aimlessly at the wall. A recommendation made by a film professor at Syracuse University hung on that wall. It was from Shapiro.

‘I told him, ‘Hey, I read you like…20,000 times,” Aboutboul said. ‘Very strange things happen on this project.’

For some of the crew members, the most unusual part of working on ‘Is It You?’ was seeing the chemistry between actors Aboutboul and Rani Bleir, who played Ronnie’s brother, Jacob.

Shlomi Ben-Yair, the assistant director to Menkin, said he could not believe how easy the relationship came to them.

‘Any time you put these two guys in a room, I am just excited ’cause you never know what’s going to happen,’ Ben-Yair said. ‘It’s just nice to see. It’s so effortless.’

Tanya Schiller, a graduate film student at SU, was also amazed by the charisma.

The scenes between the actors hardly seemed like scripts being played out, Schilling said.

‘Things seem very real in terms of what’s being acted,’ Schilling said. ‘It seems very much like real life.’

For Aboutboul, the most awe-worthy element of the film experience was the embrace that the Syracuse community had given to the film crew. In one scene, Ronnie deals with a broken-down car. Despite the cameras in the street, many passers-by, including a police officer, tried to help, Aboutboul said.

The film was catered entirely by the Market Diner, and a local member of the Syracuse community volunteered his house for the entire cast and crew to stay in. Aboutboul said he was extremely grateful for this sort of display of film enthusiasm from locals.

‘I live in LA. I work in Hollywood, so in a way, this is like, for real here,’ Aboutboul said. ‘The excitement of the people is so genuine. Not over, just thrilled to have the movies.’

cedebais@syr.edu

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