To Be Special, Be Yourselfby Natalie Jacobs January 30, 2017
Unlike the character she portrays in “Zero Motivation,” Israeli actress Dana Ivgy has plenty of reasons to wake up in the morning. And for the next three months, she’ll be doing that waking up in San Diego where she’s stationed as a visiting professor and artist at the San Diego State School of Theatre, Television and Film. According to Ivgy, the Schusterman Family Foundation, which runs the two-year-old visiting Israeli artist program, pursued her for a while.
“Americans are so well planned,” she says over the phone from Israel, “anything that we were talking about was like a year ahead.”
In Israel, between movie gigs, Ivgy teaches acting with an independent theater group she started in collaboration with fellow Israeli actors, writers and directors. She says they’ve developed something of a method which she’ll be using in her acting courses at SDSU – “acting to the camera” and another on “collaborative creation.”
“I’m planning just to work a lot with the students. I’m hoping that we can even get to create their own materials … I really like to work a lot and talk less.”
Dana Ivgy, 34, starred most recently in “Zero Motivation,” a critically acclaimed comedy that follows Zohar (Ivgy’s character) and a handful of her fellow female IDF soldiers through their mind-numbing administrative jobs deep in the Israeli desert. The film is a feature-length extension of director Talya Levie’s short student film “The Substitute” which Ivgy acted in 10 years before “Zero Motivation.”
When Levie finished writing the full-length version, she contacted Ivgy with the idea that she, having aged 10 years, would play the role of the battalion’s commander, Rama.
In “Zero Motivation,” the staunch Rama character tries urgently to get a handle on her unruly group of girls in order to work her way into the ranks of more prestigious officer posts. Rama is unsuccessful in this effort, thanks in large part to Zohar.
“We both thought that I grew up. It turns out that I didn’t,” Ivgy says with a laugh.
When they tested Ivgy as the Rama character, she says they quickly realized that Ivgy looked pretty much the same as she did 10 years ago, when she played the defiant soldier character who had a slightly different name in the student film.
“[Talya said she] thought I was a rebellious personality and she couldn’t believe that I would be a commander.”
Ivgy plays Zohar with such convincing apathy that if “Zero Motivation” is the only film you watch Ivgy in, it’s almost hard to imagine she herself has managed a successful career. Not so for the young star. She was awarded a Best Actress prize from the Israel Film Academy for that role and the film won Best Narrative Feature and the Nora Ephron Prize at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. She won her first Best Actress award in 2004 for her role as the teen daughter of a prostitute in “Or (My Treasure).”
Ivgy’s parents Moshe Ivgy and Irit Sheleg, now divorced, are also actors. Dana and her father have so far appeared in one film together, “Haiu Leilot (There Were Nights).”
During her time in San Diego, Ivgy will also serve as one of three jurors for the Joyce Forum short film competition at the 27th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival. A favorite among festival-goers, the Joyce Forum consists of 23 films, each 30 minutes or less, shown across a day-long program. Ivgy and her fellow judges – filmmaker Irina Isaeva and SDSU professor emeritus Lawrence Baron – will decide on winners in five categories: Best Short Film; Best Short Documentary; Special Jury Award; Best Director; and Best Short Narrative.
Ivgy says she’ll be looking for work that showcases the filmmaker’s unique point of view.
“The more individual and personal it is, the more interesting it is for me. … My acting teacher would always say ‘If you want to be special you should be yourself because everyone’s trying to be special. If you’re going to try to be special you’re going to end up like everyone else.’
“The more I watch films and art [the more I realize] it’s a very simple kind of thing that he said but it’s very true. I get very excited when I see something that someone’s really saying – it could be from their heart, their brain, their dreams, but the more individual it is, the more interesting it is.”
The film “Zero Motivation” is also playing at this year’s Jewish Film Festival and Ivgy will be there to answer questions after the showing on Feb. 19.
The Joyce Forum Film Shorts will show on Feb. 13 at the ArcLight Theatres in UTC mall from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. “Zero Motivation” plays on Feb. 19 at Clairemont Reading Cinemas at 4:15 p.m. Visit sdcjc.org/sdjff to purchase tickets.