We’ve had the pleasure of having a talk with Mark Rosenblatt, director of the short film Ganef. Rosenblatt is a UK-based theatre and film director. He is currently Associate Artist at Leeds Playhouse, and his productions, ranging from experimental music theatre to classics’ reinterpretations, have been staged around the globe. From 2001 he runs Dumbfounded Theatre. His other work in film includes “The Dybbuk”, a Yiddish exorcist thriller that gained him the prestigious JMK Young Director’s Award.
What was the start-off point for the script? Why did you decide to explore such a complicated theme as the Holocaust?
“I wanted to represent something you don’t see as much on screen – the quiet, domestic space of a Holocaust survivor and her family years after the war. It feels political to me somehow – the high-drama of the war and the Holocaust itself is very familiar to us. But seeing a family still processing those events many years later felt important because the Holocaust didn’t stop in 1945. The consequences of its violence, as with systemic violence against any group of people, last years and years, generations.
I grew up in a family of Holocaust survivors – my grandparents survived whilst many of their relatives didn’t – so, from a very young age, I was aware of the horror they’d been through, how easily the world can turn against a community, and how lucky I was to be alive at all. So I was looking for a way to articulate some of that – how the trauma of survival gets passed down to children and grandchildren, and how complicated its impact can be on the generations that follow.
There’s a story in my family about a Holocaust-surviving relative, paranoid because of their experiences in the war, hiding valuables to keep them from being stolen. So I wondered asked, well what if that person had a little girl and she thought that the threat was real, and that the cleaner was a thief. And I took it from there. It seemed like an economic micro-story to explore how fear and trauma was passed down from one generation to the next.”
Tell us about your cast and if the involvement of a particular actor helped in getting the project off the ground?
“My cast were my first choices and I couldn’t believe it when they all said yes. Lydia Wilson is a highly accomplished, well-known stage and screen actor capable of everything really – she’s unbelievably, caustically funny as a PR spin-doctor opposite Anna Paquin in TV’s FLACK, or as Domnhall Gleeson’s goofy sister in Richard Curtis’ ABOUT TIME or as a deeply conflicted, pious daughter of Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare in ALL IS TRUE. And for Mrs Hirth I needed someone who could find some high-frequency emotion beneath a poised, shimmering surface. Lydia was perfect. Sophie McShera is, as you know, an audience favourite in DOWNTON ABBEY and I was looking for someone joyful, playful and loveable for the little girl to fall in love with. I worried Sophie would see the role as more of being a maid, but rightly Sophie really liked the script and felt Lynn was a very distinct challenge. “
What was the creative process while making Ganef like? What other directors, films or TV programs influenced this film?
“Well I got so much from working with my crew. This was the biggest camera crew I’ve worked with and my brilliant DP Alana Mejia Gonzalez was a brilliant support. She and I worked intensely for a week on the shotlist and storyboard (with me drawing many terrible stick figures drawings!) so we went on set phenomenally prepared.
Our lookook was dominated by PT Anderson’s Phantom Thread, Joe Wright’s Atonement and Carol Reed’s The Fallen Idol, films which combine grand homes, period settings, a child’s POV (in two instances), miscommunication and yet manage to avoid chocolate box period stuffiness. We shot on anamorphic, stretching and expanding the house and softening and diffusing the light which tips us deeper into the child’s POV and sense of a childhood disrupted.”
What about the shooting of Ganef? Have there been any difficulties during filming?
“This is my first original short and, perhaps naively, I wrote a film which centred around a very young girl’s POV. And when you work with kids under 9 years old, the law allows you to place them in front of camera for only 3 hours a day. That was definitely a big challenge! And we were incredibly lucky to find a young actress (she was 6 when we shot the film) – Izabella Dziewanska – who is wise beyond her years and enabled us to shoot fast, otherwise we might have been really up against it. Actually, even so, we did have a crazy scramble getting the last shots in the can on the last of our 3 days shooting – it was so beautifully lit (by Theo Ribeiro our gaffer and DP Alana Mejia Gonzalez) that inevitably we were always going to be stretched to capture everything on the shotlist.”
Ganef has been eligible to be considered for a 2022 Oscar. What are your hopes for the short on the circuit overall?
“We’ve been on the circuit for about 18 months now and, despite inevitably not getting into every festival you wish, we’ve had an amazing run, playing at numerous Oscar, BAFTA and BIFA qualifying festivals, winning some awards and reaching huge global audiences through Manhattan Short Film Festival and now online on Omeleto. Obviously the pandemic denied us the chance to attend in-person festivals but, thinking about where we started, it’s been absolutely brilliant.”
If you got the opportunity to go back in time and do something different while working on Ganef would you change anything? And if so why?
“There are always things that bug me in the writing and the storytelling – could I have set up the ambiguity around the little girl’s perception of the cleaner better? That’s one thing I think about when I’ve re-watched it. And there are a couple of glitches in the backgrounds of shots that were a result of being rushed to get our last shots and taking our eye off small details. But genuinely, overall, I don’t think I could have gathered together a stronger cast and crew than the one we had. We gave it everything and I’m super proud of it.”
You can have a look at the trailer below!