Aspen Shortsfest: In ‘Hounds,’ a dogfight for status

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
"Hounds," from Israel, will screen during Friday's 8:30 p.m. program at Aspen Shortsfest.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: ‘Hounds’ at Aspen Shortsfest

Where: Wheeler Opera House

When: Friday, April 8, 8:30 p.m. program

How much: $15

Tickets: Wheeler box office;

More info: The six-film, 92-minute program will be followed by a filmmaker Q&A.

As “Hounds” begins, you’re not sure whether you’re in for a comedy, a horror film or a social commentary. In the end, this surreal 30-minute film from Israel, set in the surprisingly cutthroat ranks of guards in a contemporary art museum, is all three.

Filmed in an over-exaggerated, David Lynch-styled color palate and scored with ominous French horns, “Hounds” opens as security guard Iris receives an unexpected promotion, but an accident soon sends her and her team of female guards into fierce bureaucratic battle with one another.

The film has its international premiere this evening at Aspen Shortsfest.

The entire cast is made up of women of Middle Eastern (Mizrahi) origin, with comedian and Israeli superstar Orna Banai in the lead as Iris.

“Working with her was inspiring and exciting, and I was trying to move her away from her comic safe zone,” director Omer Tobi said recently via email. “Another challenge was to shape one of the country’s biggest stars into a common museum guard.”

Tobi, a 23-year-old video artist based in Tel Aviv, began writing “Hounds” after he visited an opening at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Among the “well-dressed and well-versed” crowd of attendees, he noticed silent female security guards keeping watch over the galleries.

“The quiet encounter with those women hypnotized me for months ahead,” he said, “and since then the object of my visits at museums became the workers themselves. I was drawn to their attire, their uniforms, their state of mind.”

The foreboding sculpture at the center of “Hounds” literally growls at those who view it. Listening to it, Iris deadpans in the film, is “an experience of a lifetime.” Tobi wanted to make a movie that would portray his view of how society often puts art objects on a pedestal and leaves human beings, like the Mizrahi guards of “Hounds,” in the shadows.

“It demands the viewer to turn its gaze to an exhibition he must not miss, a group of transparent female workers. … I found it important to create a fantastic environment to draw the viewer in, into a world that at first pleases the eye yet ultimately conceals the sadness and personal tragedies of common people,” Tobi said.

His screenplay’s less than glowing depiction of contemporary art and museums made it difficult for the director to find a location. Tobi was denied access to most museums in Israel. The Land of Israel Museum allowed him access only to its bathrooms, where he filmed a pivotal scene. The rest of Hounds was shot in The Rabin Center, a research institution in Tel Aviv, which allowed him to film there for two weeks.

Tobi dropped out of film school to pursue his independent vision: “I’m very protective of my intuition and felt that academic pursuits can jeopardize it.” He made “Hounds” through Prologue, an Israeli incubator for independent directors. He also is a founder and producer of Arisa, which has drawn global attention for staging groundbreaking Middle Eastern-themed LGBT celebrations at clubs in Tel Aviv and around the world. He’s currently writing a musical series for the Israeli broadcaster Keshet, and seeking funding for his first feature film.

Tobi is in Aspen for the festival, and will take part in a filmmaker Q&A following tonight’s screening.

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