Director shares his ‘Blues’
Sidebar: See the movie
In the wee hours of the morning of April 30, 2003, American documentary producer Jack Baxter was in Mike’s Place, a popular blues bar on the Tel Aviv beachfront, filming a slice of Israeli life. But then a slice of death walked through the door.
The suicide bombing at Mike’s Place by a British Muslim terrorist that day destroyed three lives and left dozens gravely injured, including Baxter himself. But the camera kept rolling, and the story of the bar, the bombing, and its healing aftermath are captured for all to see in Baxter’s award-winning 2005 film, Blues by the Beach.
At the time of the bombing, Baxter and his cameraman/director, American-born Israeli Joshua Faudem, had been filming for about a month, the producer said during a telephone interview from his home in New York. He had come to Israel to do a documentary about the trial of Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, he said, but that hadn’t panned out. Then he walked into Mike’s Place.
“My focus switched to doing a story about the bar the people who worked and hung out there in order to show how Israelis were coping with the second Intifada,” Baxter said. “This was a place that appealed not only to Israelis, but to Americans and Arabs, and to me, it was a metaphor of an idealized Middle East that I’d found.”
But then the suicide bomber walked in, too, shattering lives and shifting Baxter’s focus once again.
“It totally changed my life,” he said. “The bomber was about four feet away from me when he exploded. Both my eardrums were blown out. I was burned on my face and arms and had a contusion on the right side of my brain that left me paralyzed on my right side. And I do have shrapnel in me, but it’s embedded organic shrapnel pieces of the bomber’s bones.
“But,” he said, “we decided to keep going.”
A healing film
Faudem picked up his camera five minutes after the bombing and continued filming over the course of the next couple of months, while the injured recovered, Baxter said. The results have impressed many: Blues by the Beach won a Films of Conflict and Resolution Award at the 2004 Hamptons International Film Festival and a Red Wagon Award at the 2005 Fire Island Golden Wagon Film Festival. These days, Baxter and his wife, coproducer Fran Strauss-Baxter, are showing the film at synagogues and Jewish film festivals around the country and hoping to see it released in theaters, on television, and on DVD.
“We have probably one of the most unique films you could imagine,” he said. “This is a story before, during, and after a suicide bombing terrorist attack, so you see the beginning, the middle, and the end of the impact of a bombing.
“This is not a political film,” he added. “It’s a real-life story about how this particular group of Israelis survived and thrived. It illustrates the resolve and resilience of Israelis to continue on through this horrendous event. It truly is a remarkable film in that it’s real.”
Baxter said he sees Blues by the Beach as a film with the architecture of a classical Greek tragedy. “It starts out as one kind of story and something happens that changes the course of the film,” he said. “This is not a film on the conflict itself, but on the personal lives of people. So it’s a healing film. One thing a classical tragedy has is catharsis, and that’s really the power of the film. People triumph at the end.”
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