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Israeli tween movie ‘Full Speed’ enters cinemas despite COVID-19 setbacks

CM 12/08/2021

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Kobi Mahat, the director of Full Speed, the new Israeli summer tween flick about motorcycle and car racing, is happy and a little relieved that the movie has made it into theaters.
The film, a spin-off from the 2019 film, Full Gas, is part of a growing trend of homegrown live-action movies aimed at Israeli teens, tweens and kids that are hitting theaters this summer.
Full Speed managed to complete about a week of filming in the Jordan Valley before the first COVID-19 lockdown started in 2020 and the rest was filmed between the first and second lockdowns. Working under the shadow of the virus was a logistical challenge, to put it mildly. Instead of putting up the cast and crew in a hotel, for example, they had to live at home and travel from the Tel Aviv area to the set every day. Once they managed to finish the movie, there was nowhere to show it, as theaters remained closed.
All that makes the release even sweeter for Mahat and his cast. Having the movie ready for so long without a place to show it, he said, “was like having a baby born and you can’t have a brit.”

Other filmmakers faced the same frustration and several live-action Israeli films aimed at young viewers were just released recently. These include Hanna’s Shabbat Dress (Simlat HaShabbat shel Hannale), starring Hanny Nahmias and Michal Weizman, based on the beloved fairytale by Yitzhak Damiel Schweiger. Another new film, The Raft, directed by Oded Raz, is an adventure movie about Israeli teens who build a raft and sail to Cyprus to take part in a contest. It stars Anna Zak, Omer Dahan, Shahaf Carmel and Idan Shakroka. All these films aim to challenge the dominance of foreign movies, especially from America, for young audiences and to lure viewers with stories with uniquely Israeli style and attitude.
Full Speed, which was produced by United King Films and LightStream Film & Television, is an ambitious film with expertly filmed action sequences that goes far beyond Full Gas, which was about a teen who wants to take part in a motorcycle race. Full Speed tells the story of a group of skilled teenage drivers and riders from an Israeli program who compete against one another on both motorcycles and racing cars for the chance to make it to the world’s leading motor academy in Daytona, Florida and compete there. Only one character continues from the first film into Full Speed, Nimrod, played by an actor with the unlikely-for-Israel name of Kevin Rubin.
IT’S A group filled with classic teen archetypes, with brash pranksters, mean bullies, a goofy guy pushed by his powerful father who doesn’t really belong there, a nerd addicted to using apps to plan his rides and good guys with something to prove. There are also the tough teachers with backstories of their own. But the twist on the usual competition movie is that this story is, well, driven by the fact that for the first time, both female and male riders can take part and there is also a female instructor, Yael (Chen Amsalem). The cast is like Who’s Who of young Israeli stars and includes Shira Levi, Noam Imber (who won an Ophir Award for his performance in the upcoming Nir Bergman movie, Here We Are), Avraham Arenson (Palmach), Tal Grushka, On Refaeli (the brother of supermodel Bar Refaeli), Dean Gerber and Idan Telem. Aki Avni, who has starred in so many Israeli movies and series, among them Tiranoot and Joseph Cedar’s first movie, Time of Favor, plays Hollander, the head of the program, and Gal Amitai is 
his deputy.
Apart from the challenges of filming it in the COVID era, it was not an easy film to shoot, given the need to make the action sequences interesting and realistic. Mahat said they used a MotoCrane, a crane mounted on a jeep that holds a camera. The jeep with the MotoCrane would drive ahead of or follow the vehicles shown in the film and it required three people to operate it, he explained.
“You need a driver who knows how to drive so the camera moves the way it should, a person who moves the crane and a man in the trunk watching the vehicles and telling the man how to move the crane to get the correct angle.” If you are thinking about signing up to be a MotoCrane operator, you should know it’s not all glamour. “Every five minutes, the guy in the trunk throws up,” Mahat said. “But we wanted it to look exciting, from the point of view of drivers in the race, we didn’t want to just shoot from the side.”
A THREAD that runs through the film is the struggle of the female participants and teacher to be taken seriously in male-dominated sports.
“This is about how this is the first time this competition is open to women, only the gates aren’t really open all the way,” Mahat said. “They have to prove that they have the right to be there, they have to be better than the guys… They find ways to prove themselves in a man’s world and find a different kind of femininity.”
He added, “The storyline of Hollander sexually harassing Yael is an important part of the film. I wanted to show how there is a spectrum of how men deal with women. Hollander invites women in, but then he still doesn’t treat women as equals.”
Some men think they accept women as their peers but still use phrases like “scream like a girl” or “run like a girl,” he noted.
The movie “isn’t only escapism and fun. There are values and a message,” about female equality and positive sporting attitudes.
Mahat enjoyed working with the newcomers and veteran actors alike. He was impressed by Aki Avni’s preparation for the role of Hollander, who comes as close to being a villain as there can be in this essentially upbeat story.
“Aki brought high standards to the set,” he said. To play the sexist Hollander, Avni created a whole biography for his character and even sprayed cologne around the set used for Hollander’s office, because this is the scent he felt his character would use. “He wanted to learn all about how the motors on the cars work, the intricacies of the engine and talked to stunt coordinators about how to drive fast. The other actors complained that Aki wouldn’t joke around with them at lunch or during breaks, but he was just staying in character.”
Mahat is not sure whether there will be another film in the “Full” series but said that audiences have responded enthusiastically to Full Speed.
Full Speed is a real summer movie,” he said. “A friend called and said, ‘It’s the most American Hollywood Israeli movie I’ve ever seen.’ That was good to hear.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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