Tag Archives: Sleeping Bears

Open secrets

Israeli writer/director Keren Margalit discusses the making of her latest drama Sleeping Bears, which tackles issues of trust, and opens up about the creative process behind her screen work.

Psychologists and therapists are privy to some of their clients’ deepest secrets – so what happens if those secrets are suddenly exposed? That’s the question at the heart of Israeli drama Sleeping Bears, which also asks whether we are able to truly trust the ones we love.

The 10-part series centres on Hadas, a teacher at a school for high-risk pupils, whose world collapses around her when she receives an envelope containing pages from her psychologist Ya’akov Eshel’s diary – papers documenting their private conversations. When Ya’akov is unexpectedly killed in a car crash, Hadas is forced into a desperate search to find the anonymous sender as she faces truths she has kept hidden from her loved ones.

Keren Margalit

Blending elements of family drama and captivating thriller, it’s the latest series from writer/director Keren Margalit, the award-winning creator of Yellow Peppers, which was adapted in the UK as The A Word. Produced by July August Productions for Keshet Broadcasting, it is distributed by Keshet International.

Margalit first conceived the idea behind Sleeping Bears while working on Yellow Peppers, but it wasn’t until she made the second season of that show that she sat down to work on her latest series. “The idea goes round and round for many years. This is the tendency of ideas,” she says. “You have one and then you go to sleep and it pops up again, and when it pops up for the sixth time, you think there’s probably something there. Even now, there are a million ideas spinning around but I don’t know if they will become something. I had to research it without knowing what it was.”

The idea for the series soon took shape, however, and was boosted by making the central character a teacher – a decision that was inspired by a programme Margalit saw about people who leave their careers to go and work with troubled kids. She subsequently spent time working at a school as a teaching assistant.

Her writing process is dictated by one essential element. “The trick of deadlines is amazing,” she jokes. “You have no money, it’s been too long since your last project, and how long can I run over The A Word, which isn’t mine really. So that was the moment I sat down and started doing this. I have a script editor who works very closely with me and she also shouts at me, and we did it!

“But it took a lot of time this time. I knew the idea, I knew who [sent the secret letter], but I needed to fix the story and this happens through writing. It started to awaken.”

Sleeping Bears stars Noa Koler as a teacher fighting to protect her darkest secrets

Margalit wrote all 10 episodes herself, an unusual step given the large episode order but one that was necessary, as when she started writing, she didn’t yet know what would happen before the story reached its conclusion.

“I just don’t know what’s going to happen so I don’t have anything to give anyone, so I have to do it myself,” she says. “I also hate conflicts, so with myself [directing] I can handle it.”

As for whether she prefers writing or directing, Margalit says: “If I had to choose something, I choose writing but I don’t think I could direct someone else’s script. It’s partly because I continue to write while directing. You bring this story to life and you do that though directing. And I’m making changes on set. On Yellow Peppers, some of the best scenes were created on set. You also need to find what is happening now, what’s happening at the same moment. That’s directing. If there’s another director, he can’t do it because he doesn’t have the freedom to change anything.”

The cast of Sleeping Bears is headed by Noa Koler, who plays Hadas, alongside Yossi Marshak as Hadas’s husband Dari, Ola Schur Selektar as her best friend Iris and Yaakov Zada Daniel as Shai Gabai, the principal of the school where Hadas works.

The series is produced by July August Productions for Keshet

“When I read the script, I felt many things,” Koler tells DQ. “One of them was fear; it was scary. Could I imagine myself doing these suspense scenes? I fell in love with Hadas – she’s going into a big war and she’s a strong and brave woman, and I don’t consider myself as one. I guess I am in some way, but not like Hadas. Hadas is a very strong woman and she’s at a point where she has to choose how she wants to live her life. I wanted to play that part very badly. I didn’t know if I could do it or do it as well as in the script.”

The actor describes Margalit as “unique, there’s no one like her,” and says she demands her cast give their all to their characters. “She knows what she wants and she can’t stand fakes or phonies or someone never giving themselves truly,” Kooler says. “She feels everything. There’s not a second in the series that is there by mistake. She’s amazing, she’s one of a kind.”

Getting the best performance from her actors is all about using what is happening in the real world to channel their emotions into their character, Margalit says. “You have to look at what’s happening in the moment all the time and not be automatic,” she explains. “There’s always some new condition under the surface. People are very difficult creatures, they’re so full of layers and you have to find the right layer for this approach and what feeling is going on in there. So that’s a nice game for me. Let’s see how we can translate that and make something interesting and different [on screen].”

Koler adds: “It’s an amazing opportunity for me as an actress to have this range of emotions. It’s funny when I have to run – I’m not that sporty, but [my character is] so afraid. And I love that there are some moments of humour in her life. It was very challenging, fun and tough.”

Margalit is best known for creating Autism drama Yellow Peppers

With a career spanning series including BeTipul (In Therapy), autism drama Yellow Peppers and now Sleeping Bears, Margalit tells stories about big things happening to regular people. “People can be larger than life, but these people are the exact same size as life,” she says. “They’re not expecting to do anything brave. Usually they’re very frightened people who prefer to not get into trouble. They hide at home and trouble comes to them and they have to deal with it. It’s their worst nightmare. But Hadas can’t sleep through life, she has to take a stand and fight – that’s what she’s going through.”

Israel, now a notable force on the international scripted scene, is known for creating big drama despite the relatively low budgets broadcasters and producers have to play with. It all means character and emotion are put front and centre of series that force ordinary people to deal with extraordinary circumstances.

“We’re not doing any genre series in Israel about hospitals or lawyers, we don’t have any of that,” observes Keshet Broadcasting’s Karni Ziv. “Part of it is budget but part of it is that the Israeli audience want a story they can connect with for a long time. The Israeli audience wants to fall in love – not watch a police officer solving a crime again and again.

“When you have small budgets, you can’t do big shows and it forces the writer and then the director to find a solution. People want to watch people like them, people they can relate to. Hadas is a teacher, she’s not a prime minister or a spy, and I think it makes it a series that a lot of our audience can relate to.”

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Stars on show

Television held its own at one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world as an array of talent and some stunning new shows landed in Germany for Berlinale’s fourth annual Drama Series Days. DQ was in town to find out more.

For those in the television industry, the chance to rub shoulders with A-list movie stars might once have seemed a pipe dream. But for anyone who attended the Berlin International Film Festival this week, that dream was very much a reality.

Now in its fourth year, Berlinale’s Drama Series Days has established itself as one of the premier television events around the world as the German capital rolls out the red carpet for stars of the big screen – and small.

To find yourself caught up in a maelstrom of photographers’ flash bulbs and screaming and cheering fans might not be an unusual event at a film festival. But to then peer over the barriers and find the stars of Australian drama Picnic at Hanging Rock posing for the cameras is proof that television is now assured of the same reverence as cinema. And for good reason. The talent the industry is able to attract is of a level never seen before in terms of movie stars signing up for longer-form storytelling. The productions themselves are also worthy of acclaim, with the word ‘cinematic’ a staple adjective regularly dished out to describe the scale of dramas now on screen.

Six-part miniseries Picnic at Hanging Rock stars Natalie Dormer

Picnic at Hanging Rock, which will air on Foxtel in Australia later this year and is distributed by FremantleMedia, is a case in point. Game of Thrones alum Natalie Dormer turns in a standout performance as Hester Appleyard, the headmistress of a girls’ boarding school that faces tragedy when three pupils disappear during a picnic at the titular rock. The series also pops with colour and visual flair thanks to director Larysa Kondracki, making it stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Peter Weir’s celebrated 1975 film adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s novel, which also serves as the source of the television reimagining.

The six-part miniseries – there will be no sequel that goes beyond the book, delegates in Berlin were told – was one of seven screenings that took place as part of the Berlinale Series programme, highlighting some of the biggest new dramas from around the world.

Others included Israeli psychological thriller Sleeping Bears, written and directed by Keren Magalit (Yellow Peppers, The A Word), and Bad Banks. The latter is described as a six-part Machiavellian thriller set in the ruthless world of international finance and the stock market. Produced by Letterbox Filmproduktion and Iris Production for ZDF (Germany) and Arte (France), it has already been picked up by HBO Europe, Walter Presents UK, RTÉ in Ireland, Sundance TV Iberia and RTP in Portugal ahead of its debut next month.

Two new Scandinavian dramas were also selected. Heimebane (Home Ground) tackles gender issues as a female football coach becomes the first woman to take charge of a men’s team in the Norwegian premier league. Already commissioned for a second season by NRK, it stars Ane Dahl Torp and former footballer John Carew, well known to fans in Europe after playing for sides including Valencia and Aston Villa, as well as the Norway national team.

Heimebane is about a female football coach and also features ex-player John Carew (left)

Meanwhile, amid talk of Scandi broadcasters losing interest in what the rest of the world calls Nordic noir, one show is set to push new boundaries at Danish net DR. Known for its original series including Forbrydelsen (The Killing), Borgen and Broen (The Bridge), DR’s forthcoming drama Liberty stands out as something totally different for the channel. It also marks a rare book adaptation to land on the network.

Based on Jakob Ejersbo’s novel, it follows a group of Scandinavian expats living and working in Tanzania, and explores themes of corruption, identity, morals and friendship. Hollywood actor Connie Nielsen joined fellow cast members including Carsten Bjørnlund plus creator Asger Leth and director Mikael Marcimain on the red carpet in Berlin.

The Berlinale official selection was completed by two new US series, showcasing the vast range of storytelling television now affords. The Looming Tower, debuting next month on US streamer Hulu and showcased in Berlin by European partner Amazon, is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Lawrence Wright. The story traces the rising threat of Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in the late 1990s and how the rivalry between the FBI and CIA at that time may have set the path for tragedy on 9/11.

Stars Jeff Daniels, Ali Soufan, Peter Sarsgaard and showrunner Dan Futterman (pictured top) were in Germany to promote the show, which injects reality into a Homeland-style political thriller.

Tobias Menzies (left) and Jared Harris in forthcoming AMC drama The Terror

At the other end of the spectrum, meanwhile, is The Terror, AMC’s take on the true story of the crews of two British Royal Navy ships that attempt to discover the Northwest Passage in the mid-1800s. This isn’t just another historical drama, however. Faced with treacherous conditions, limited resources and a fear of the unknown, the crew members are pushed to the brink of extinction as they face all kinds of dangers, from both human and otherworldly sources.

The mix of horror and the supernatural, coupled with the eerie Arctic landscapes, certainly makes this show one to watch, with co-showrunners David Kajganich and Soo Hugh promising to reward viewers through the 10-part series, which features Jared Harris (Mad Men) and Tobias Menzies (Outlander) among the ensemble cast.

The strength of the drama on show this week in Berlin and the number of small-screen stars descending upon the city were proof of television’s strength at an event usually revered as one of the most prestigious film festivals on the international circuit. With more film talent on both sides of the camera now championing the opportunities offered by longform storytelling, and the chance to develop characters across more than a two-hour period, coupled with television’s new openness to genre and plot, expect to see television play an even greater role in at Berlinale in 2019.

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