As one of its most popular filmmakers, Eytan Fox has helped turn Israel into a remarkably gay-friendly country
A few years ago filmmaker Eytan Fox was flipping TV channels in his Berlin hotel room when he stumbled on the Eurovision Song Contest. “Suddenly, I realized that I didn’t even know who was representing Israel that year,” he says.
A lot had changed in the four decades since organizers of the annual music competition had first invited the small Middle Eastern democracy to join its pop parade. Back then, in 1973, as a kid growing up in Jerusalem, Fox’s parents “had invited all of our neighbors over to our apartment to watch the contest.” Six years later, as a 14-year-old reporter on an Israeli TV show run by kids, Fox was sent to cover that year’s Eurovision contest. “I was very proud of myself that I was part of this supposedly very glamorous world of Eurovision,” he says.
In the decades since, Fox had mostly forgotten all about Eurovision, with notable exceptions, such as in 1998 when transgender singer Dana International won representing Israel. Also in that time Fox, who is gay, has become one of Israel’s most popular filmmakers, responsible for several hit series on Israeli TV. His feature films constantly travel the international festival circuit, particularly hitting LGBT and Jewish film festivals. In 2006 the Washington Jewish Film Festival (WJFF) presented Fox with an award for his contributions to the field of Jewish cinema.
Fox’s films, which include 2002’s Yossi & Jagger, 2004’s Walk on Water and 2006’s The Bubble, chiefly focus on contemporary Israeli life, always present gay and straight characters as close friends, colleagues or neighbors — often all three. Most notably, these gay-inclusive films are always made with funds from the Israeli government. “The country has been supporting my films since the mid-’90s,” says the 49-year-old. “Films that always have gay characters, gay themes, gay love stories, gay sex scenes.”
Fox’s latest, the sweet and uplifting Cupcakes, which closes the WJFF Saturday, March 9, was inspired by Eurovision. The focus is on a group of Israelis — three straight women, one lesbian and one gay man — who compete at a Eurovision-style competition. The group’s leading competitor is a Russian husband-and-wife duo, as fake and manufactured — among other things the husband is a closet case — as this ragtag Israeli group is authentic, even innocent.
The Israeli group competes by performing a song originally written by Scott Hoffman, otherwise known as Babydaddy from the Scissor Sisters. “Scott is a friend of mine and my family,” Fox explains. “At some point I said to him, ‘Do you have a Eurovision-like song that you maybe wrote once and never published or anything?’ And he said, ‘You know what? A few years ago we sat together, we had some drinks, we were kind of tipsy, and we decided to write an ABBA-style song.'”
For Cupcakes, Fox made this song, originally called “Right Back,” “sweeter, more sentimental, more kitsch.” And “Song for Anat” is sung in Hebrew, a nod to what Fox said the competition used to be.
“It used to be, you came from Spain, you sang in Spanish. You came from Germany, you sang in German,” he explains about Eurovision. “And now, everyone sings this funny, bad English. Bad accents and bad lyrics. So it’s become more and more of a joke.”