Interview #40: Boaz Yakin

Boaz Yakin is perhaps best known for the Denzel Washington starring, Jerry Bruckheimer produced, American football drama ‘Remember The Titans’. Yet his latest film ‘Aviva’ is a far cry from such a production: an avant-garde dance drama that explores masculine and feminine duality and casts two individuals in single roles. We spoke to Boaz about the film.

How would you describe Aviva?

It’s an exploration through dance of the masculine/feminine duality within the self, and how that balance or imbalance affects our romantic relationships.

What are the origins of it?

I had been thinking for a while about the masculine/feminine balance (or more frequently, imbalance) within the self, and how it affects external relationships. I had the idea of casting both of the characters in a romantic relationship, a man and a woman, with both a man and woman each, two characters played by four people; but couldn’t quite find a way into it. I also was feeling like I wanted to do something that had dance and movement in it. I was speaking about these two desires with a friend who is an ex-dancer, and he suggested putting them together. I then immediately understood the movie I wanted to make and set out to explore it.

What attracted you to the ideas of the film?

It’s a very personal story. I’ve been dealing with these challenges for my entire life without fully understanding or coming to grips with them, so I sought to explore these ideas through a creative process.

Aviva was shot in Paris as well as New York and Los Angeles
How did you go about casting the roles – specifically the dual male/female parts of the central couple?

The first person to join me in this venture was the great Bobbi Jene Smith, an incredible dancer and choreographer. She danced with the celebrated Batsheva dance company for many years, and a number of the key performers in the movie, such as Zina Zinchenko as Aviva Woman and Or Schraiber as Aviva Man, come from that company. Others were connections Bobbi has made over the years dancing and teaching in NYC. She was the key to casting the movie with our fantastic dancers.

How difficult was the shoot? There are a number of locations as well as all the dance choreography…

This was extremely challenging but also a totally engaging and pleasurable shoot. I basically financed the movie myself, with an unexpected cheque I miraculously received for a commercial movie I had made many years ago. I’ve put my life savings into a movie that I knew no one else would finance several times in my life now. In any case, though it was made for what in Hollywood terms would be seen as a very small budget, we shot for nearly fifty days in New York and Paris and Los Angeles, with a cast of over a hundred dancers and actors. In the streets… everywhere. It was a guerrilla shoot, running around in streets, subways, airports. It was exhausting and it was fun.

How does making a film like this contrast with making a Hollywood production like ‘Remember the Titans’? What makes it harder and what makes it easier (if anything)?
Remember the Titans (2000)

It’s easier in every way to me in that I am answerable only to myself and my creative collaborators. No studio, no executives breathing down your neck, no compromises made in order to mollify their idea of what an audience might want to see. Just pure unadulterated exploration and experimentation and trust in one’s intuition and the talents of his collaborators. It’s amazing.

What sort of distribution do you have for the film?

It was a crazy Covid year so our festival premiere at the wonderful South By Southwest film festival never happened. That was hard. But a company called Outsider films gave it a digital distribution in the US and the film will be distributed in the UK by Matchbox films.

What are you working on next?

Throwing a number of things against the wall. We’ll see what sticks! I’m hoping to make another dance movie as soon as fortune allows…

Our sincere thanks to Lizzie and Sue at Porterfrith for arranging the interview and to Boaz for his time.

Aviva is now available on Curzon Home Cinema, BFI Player and Barbican Cinema On Demand.

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