TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. If you were a fan of "The Wire," the HBO series that took viewers inside the lives of cops and drug dealers in Baltimore, you might be interested in the Netflix series "Fauda," which brings a similar approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It centers on an elite unit of the Israeli military whose members speak Arabic and work undercover in the West Bank. There's plenty of tension and violence, but the episodes also focus on the families and private lives of the Israeli operatives and the Palestinian militants.
"Fauda" won 11 of the Israeli equivalent of the Emmys last year. There are two seasons available for streaming on Netflix, with English subtitles for the Hebrew and Arabic. A third season is on the way. "Fauda" was created by Lior Raz, an actor who stars in the series and served in an undercover unit in the Israeli military, and by our guest Avi Issacharoff. Issacharoff is a respected Israeli journalist who covered the second intifada and is the author of two books - one about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and another about the 2006 war in Lebanon. Avi Issacharoff spoke with FRESH AIR's Dave Davies.
DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: Well, Avi Issacharoff, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's good to have you. You covered the second intifada as a journalist, I believe, correct?
AVI ISSACHAROFF: Yep.
DAVIES: I wonder if there were images, scenes that came from that experience that helped - informed what you do in this series, "Fauda."
ISSACHAROFF: The experiences that I had as a journalist on the ground in the West Bank and in Gaza Strip - many of them, we took them to the plot - to the two plots of the two first seasons of "Fauda." Many of them - you see it in different versions, in different ways and different angles. But, of course, yes. It's definitely affected the show - the TV show - the plot, the characters. Everything, especially on the Palestinian side, of course, is affected by the visits that I had and the stories that I brought from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
DAVIES: Can you give us an example of a story that made its way into the series?
ISSACHAROFF: Wow. It's endless. Just a few examples. Sheikh Awadalla, the spiritual leader of Hamas - his character is following us on the first and second seasons of "Fauda." And one way or the other, he is based upon a true character that is still living in the West Bank. Well, actually, he shares his time between the West Bank and the Israeli jails as the leader of Hamas in the West Bank, and his name is Sheikh Hassan Yousef.
So his character is based upon a true character. Why? Because that sheikh had a kind of a very special character. I mean, he wasn't like the typical leaders of Hamas that I got to know. He was very open. He was very liberal, comparing to other sheikhs or leaders of Hamas. And he - I found him as a very charming man. I mean, although I'm an Israeli, I'm a Jew, we got, in a way, very close in our relations as a journalist and a source. And for me, it was a real experience to get to know the real man, and, of course, trying to adopt the character into the plot of "Fauda."
Then, from the first season, we have Abu Ahmad, The Panther, or Taofik Hamed, which is based upon, again, a true character of a terrorist named Ibrahim Hamed. And we said in the show that The Panther is coming from a village called Silwad. This is where Ibrahim Hamed came from in real life.
And we took - I mean, we did real research about his character. I've never met him, by the way, but I knew that he was the leader of the military wing of Hamas. And I knew from my sources that he was responsible for many suicide attacks against Israelis. And when we followed his character, and we tried to understand what was the real character like - today, he's in the Israeli jail, by the way - we understood that, you know, the man was involved, except for his involvement in terrorist attacks, and except for being a radical anti-Israeli anti-Zionist, et cetera, et cetera. What was so unique about him was his connection - his relations with his wife and with his family. He was totally in love with the wife, so he wrote her letters, and he bought her presents. And time after time, he wanted to see her and to reach her. And this is what he did. And following this research that we did, we took these lines - these character lines into the plot of the first season of "Fauda."
DAVIES: You know, one of the things that I think really makes the series compelling is that we get to know some of the lives of the members of Hamas and other militant groups in the West Bank. And what we find are family members who are not involved in, and in some ways are quite disinterested in, the political movements that the militants are involved in. But they are implicated, right? I mean, they get involved because they get picked up for questioning, or because they're asked to assist in some ways, of providing coverage or safe houses. Did you find that in your reporting?
ISSACHAROFF: In many of the cases, yes. You would find, sometimes, families that are divided. For example, I can give you an example from real life of an official in the Palestinian Authority who's considered to be a Fatah leader - I would say No. 2 or No. 3 in Fatah. His name is Jibril Rajoub. He's a very known leader in Fatah. But his brother is one of the leaders of Hamas.
So these two organizations, of course, are in a course of collusion. They don't like each other. But what happens when these two brothers live together? And this is in real life - in reality. So what we were trying to do is to show those arguments - those tensions inside Palestinian families, inside Palestinian society and take it to the plot of "Fauda." So of course, in many of the cases, you would find people that are not involved but found themselves dragged into this reality.
I'll give you another example. June 2014 - three Israeli boys were kidnapped by two Hamas militants in Hebron area in Gush Etzion area. I was the journalist that arrived to their houses - the first of the journalists that arrived to the house, that was me. I got some indication from one of my sources these were the names. And, of course, no one could find them. They were missing. So I went to the houses of the families, and I knocked at the doors. And I remember that was Sunday afternoon. The boys were kidnapped on the night between Thursday and Friday.
So two days and a half later, I got to the houses of the families, and I'm knocking at the door of one of them, and there's a beautiful woman opening the door - young, intelligent, smart, charming. And I started to interview her. And what I saw was so shocking to me because for me, it was like taking the plot of "Fauda" and drag it into reality, meaning the opposite course - not taken from reality into the plot of "Fauda." But that was a kind of a case that I almost felt that I was watching Nassrin, the wife of The Panther - of Abu Ahmad, in real life this time.
DAVIES: The "Fauda" character? Yeah.
DAVIES: So at that point, you were producing the first season of "Fauda"?
ISSACHAROFF: We were shooting the first season of "Fauda."
ISSACHAROFF: And at the same time, the abduction of the three boys took place. And I got to the house of the real terrorist, and there was this young woman opening the door with her babies - with her very young children. And we started the interview.
And you understand that this young woman doesn't understand what was the missile that hit her, meaning she doesn't really get it. Like, how come that a few days ago, I saw my husband, whom I married just a few years ago, whom I love, whom I cherish? But I didn't have any reason to suspect that he was about to abduct three Israeli boys and to kill them.
And by the interview, she understands the implications or the aftermath of what her husband did is that the Israeli authorities - the Israeli army would come to the house and demolish it. And everything that she had in real life is about to vanish - gone. And that was a kind of a shocking experience for her, and for me.
DAVIES: So you were telling her what's going to happen.
ISSACHAROFF: In a way, she understood before that I got to the house because a few hours before that, the Israeli intelligence officers visited the house and told her that her husband is a suspect. They didn't even know for sure back then that he's the murderer. But, you know, it took her a few hours to understand everything. And she was walking with me in her house, and she was showing to me everything that the husband bought to her just before he left. And then she understood and I understood that everything that he bought was in preparations for him to be absent, to be gone. Like, he bought her huge amounts of rice, of flour, of oil for cooking, of stuff that you wouldn't get. Like, why did you buy all this stuff? And then on Sunday, she understood.
DAVIES: You're speaking to this woman who realizes she may very well have her house destroyed because of this act that her husband undertook which she had no part in, didn't know about. And yet she was likely to have her house demolished. How did that make you feel about the policy of destroying homes in that circumstance?
ISSACHAROFF: I didn't feel comfortable at all. I felt terrible. Again, you see it over there. You understand that she's innocent. She's not part of it. But they're about to demolish her house. And you know what? It's the tragedy of this conflict. It's the terrible situation that you understand that the Israeli authorities need to do that. Why - in order to prevent future people to go and kidnap and abduct and kill people. And on the other hand, you understand that there are non-involved citizens that are paying the price for what their friends, relatives, members the family, et cetera, did. I mean, this wife, this woman and her kids would pay a very heavy price for what their husband and father did.
DAVIES: In 2014, you and a cameraman were in a situation where you were attacked on the job, right? You want to tell us what happened?
ISSACHAROFF: It was a few weeks before we started to shoot "Fauda." And I found myself involved in a "Fauda" situation, meaning kind of a mob of people that were trying to attack me during a demonstration on May 16, 2014 outside of Ramallah and Beitunia. And, well, it started through a - kind of an argument between my cameraman and a young woman that was there as a demonstrator. And she started the discussion with him, but he didn't speak Arabic. And then we started to talk. And she asked me if I was an Israeli. I said, yes. And she demanded me to leave. And I said, why? I'm a journalist. This is what I do for a living. I'm totally fine with that.
And this is what I do for a living. I mean, I'm in these demonstrations, like, every Monday and Thursday every week, every year in the last 18 years of my life. And she said, no, you're an Israeli. You have to leave; you have to leave. And then when I said, I'm not going to leave, she walked to a group of masked young men, and she told them something. After that, I understood that she told them that I'm an Israeli intelligence officers taking their pictures and passing it to the Israeli intelligence.
And by seconds, I was surrounded by 20, 25, 30 people that were trying to attack me. And actually, I was saved by two Palestinians that - it took me a few - I would say a few minutes to understand that they were Palestinian intelligence that were there in order to prevent attacks like that. And they saved my life. They dragged me from the hands of the mob, put me in my car and drove with me outside of this area.
DAVIES: Avi Issacharoff is co-creator of the Netflix series "Fauda" about an Israeli military unit that works undercover in the West Bank. We'll talk a bit more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with Avi Issacharoff. He's a veteran Israeli journalist and co-creator of the Netflix series "Fauda" about an Israeli military unit whose members speak Arabic and work undercover in the West Bank. Its first two seasons are available for streaming on Netflix. A third series is now being planned.
So let's talk about creating "Fauda." Your co-creator, Lior Raz, served in a military unit that worked undercover in the West Bank. How did the two of you meet? How did the idea gel?
ISSACHAROFF: We got to know each other when I was 16 in Jerusalem. You know, back then, Jerusalem wasn't such a big city. I mean, for some reason, young people, secular people - we got to know each other. We spent time in the same coffee shops and restaurants and places to hang out. This is when I got to know him. Then years later, we met somewhere not far from Jerusalem, not from - not far from Ramallah in an evening, kind of almost - then again, an accident, something that we didn't plan.
But we bumped into each other, and we started to talk. And I asked him about his career, and he said that he was an actor and a producer. I knew that he was an actor. I didn't know about the production company. He did some small commercials back at that time. And he knew that I was a journalist covering the Middle East. And I asked him, like, do you have a dream in your career? And he said that he wants to do something about the undercover units. And I said, wow, I had the same thought, like, writing a book about that. And he said, no, I thought about doing a film, a movie. And I said, OK, let's sit and talk.
And we've met two weeks later in Tel Aviv. And we started just to discuss the option of doing something about that. And then again, at the beginning, we weren't sure if we were going to do a book, a movie or whatever. And at the end, we went for a TV show.
DAVIES: And, you know, when he talked to you about the experiences of this undercover unit, what kind of missions did it engage in? I mean, that could mean, you know, talking to people on street corners and getting information. It could mean, as this series opens, going into a mosque and snatching, you know, someone who's wanted and sticking him in a van.
ISSACHAROFF: No, it's different. It's very tactical units in Israel. When we talk about the undercover units in Israel, the ones that are known to the public are very tactical ones, meaning they have a mission to go and bring someone, to arrest someone. So they go undercover for an hour or two maximum and then bring in the guy and arresting him. The show - we changed, of course, reality. We played with the reality. So we took the basics and played with it. So it's not 100 percent realistic what you see in the show. We try to make the show as realistic as possible, of course, but it's fiction. And this is something important that people need to know.
DAVIES: The members of this undercover unit in the series, "Fauda" - there - I guess, there are - what? - about five of them or half dozen. They speak, obviously, Hebrew, but they also speak Arabic fluently, which meant you needed actors which also were really bilingual. Was it hard to find them?
ISSACHAROFF: Yes and no. I mean, many of the actors except for one - except for an actor named Tsahi Halevi, who's playing Naor, one of the undercover team - except for him, the Jewish actors didn't know Arabic at all.
ISSACHAROFF: Yeah. Everyone needed to go to do some Arabic lessons - simple as that. And they took it. I mean, they learned Arabic for months. They learned their text. And at the end, it's not that they speak the perfect Arabic. I mean, if you're an Arab, if you're a Palestinian, you would say they are not...
DAVIES: You could tell (laughter).
ISSACHAROFF: ...Palestinians. Yeah. But I think that we took their accent to the highest level possible for someone who's not a Palestinian.
DAVIES: And are those who play Palestinians - are the actors Arabs?
ISSACHAROFF: Yes, they are - Israeli Arabs or Israeli Palestinians.
DAVIES: You were born in Israel. You learned Arabic growing up. How did that come about?
ISSACHAROFF: Well, mainly, my Arabic learning started with the university. I studied Middle Eastern studies. I heard some Arabic at home, meaning my mother and my grandmom spoke Arabic, although they came from Kurdistan. My grandmother was born Kurdistan. My mom was born in Israel. But for some reason, I heard a lot of Arabic around me. Both of them speak Arabic. My sister - my elder sister also speaks Arabic. So for me, it wasn't that I spoke fluently while I was a child in Arabic, but I heard the language; I knew the rhythm; I knew the sound. And then when I went to the university and started learning Arabic, it was pretty easy for me to learn it pretty fast. And then when I started working as a Middle East journalist or correspondent, back then, it was - in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, it was very easy just to learn more and more and more and to have my Arabic as a second language, I would say.
DAVIES: You grew up in a neighborhood in western Jerusalem, I believe, right?
DAVIES: Did you have Arab friends growing up?
ISSACHAROFF: No. Well, I knew many Arabs, but it's not that they were close friends. Then again, my grandmom's house, which was full of people all the time, including many, many grandchildren - we had many visitors, friends of hers that were Arabs. But I wouldn't say that I had friends - Arab friends in my age.
GROSS: We're listening to the interview FRESH AIR's Dave Davies recorded with journalist Avi Issacharoff, co-creator of the Israeli TV drama series "Fauda." Two seasons are now streaming on Netflix. After we take a short break, they'll talk about the series' surprising popularity in Israel and Arab countries. And Justin Chang will review the new film "Searching," a mystery thriller whose story unfolds on the main character's computer screen. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview FRESH AIR's Dave Davies recorded with Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff, co-creator of the Israeli TV drama series "Fauda," which is about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Two seasons are now streaming on Netflix. "Fauda" focuses on an elite unit of the Israeli military whose members speak Arabic and work undercover in the West Bank. The episodes are also about the families and private lives of the Israeli operatives and Palestinian militants. Issacharoff is a journalist who's covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some of the stories in this series are based on his reporting and his interviews with members of Hamas.
DAVIES: Well, let's talk about some of the characters and storylines here. The kind of central character is a guy named Doron, who is played by your co-creator Lior Raz who actually served in real life in an undercover unit of the Israeli military working in the West Bank. Tell us about Doron. How would you describe him?
ISSACHAROFF: He's a kind of - I would say an explosive barrel, meaning, you know that it's about to explode. You don't know when. You know that you need him, especially in radical situations and tough places, but you know that he - there are some consequences for - you know, if you would use these kinds of explosives, it will have an aftereffect. It would have a kind of destruction area that is not related to the explosives that you are going to use - meaning there's always a collateral damage. And Doron is very kind of an instinct guy - very ambitious, impulsive and aggressive.
DAVIES: And we should know, just physically, I mean, he's a stocky guy - very short hair, almost bald, has like a two- or three-day growth of beard - can be a pretty intimidating presence.
ISSACHAROFF: Yeah, it's hard for me to think about Lior as an intimidating person. But, yeah, he is kind of a guy that - you know, he has presence.
DAVIES: You know, in making these stories, which, you know, have these plotlines which are designed to be entertaining and compelling, did you think you were also kind of telling a truth that you saw as a journalist?
ISSACHAROFF: You know, of course. Yeah, of course. I mean, I need to take you to the examples in order to make you understand what do I mean about that. So I remember myself sitting in prison - not as a prisoner but as a journalist - talking to Hamas members, interviewing them. And at some point, we stopped the interview, and we started to just chitchat. And one of them was sitting with me and talking and talking. At some point, he started to sing a song.
And I knew immediately the song. It's called "Enta Omri" by one of the most famous singers in the Arab world. Her name is Umm Kulthum. She was the most famous singer in the Arab world in the late '60s and early '70s. And she has one of the most beautiful love songs ever. It's called "Enta Omri." And we started to sing together this song. And this song is saying in Arabic, everything that my eyes had seen before they had seen you was for vain. Now, it's a beautiful love song. And we were singing together the words.
And at some point, I was thinking to myself, who is this man - who has blood of Israeli people on his hands - who is he thinking of? Who is the wife or the girlfriend that he's missing? Who is he singing this song to? And you get to see that, then again, by spending time with people like that. When you get to hang around with people that are considered to be terrorists, and they're telling you stories about the tragedy of their life, this is the materials that we took with us to the show.
DAVIES: You know, I don't know anything about Israeli television. But I wondered - is there a lot of popular television in Israel that deals with the Palestinian conflict? Or was that an obstacle to getting this produced?
ISSACHAROFF: I think that was an obstacle. I mean, we don't see prime-time TV shows that are dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And if to be honest, you know, it's a very boring issue.
ISSACHAROFF: I mean, yeah. Yeah. For Israelis, it's like - I don't know. It's happening every day outside your window or outside your neighborhood. So why would you - why would you like to go and see a TV show about that? It's terrible. You hear it in the news all day. I mean, why should we as Israelis go and have our entertainment time watching a TV show that deals with the real conflicts and the wars around us in this region? So I think that that was one of the main obstacles or the problems that we were facing as creators - meaning, when we came to pitch the idea of "Fauda" to the different networks, they said no. I mean, one after the other, they said no.
There aren't too many TV channels or networks in Israel - five altogether. So the options weren't wide. I mean, we had only a few. And after getting the three first nos, the fourth one - just one before the last one - Yes said yes. Yes is the satellite television company that had enough courage to gamble on "Fauda." And "Fauda" was a huge gamble for an Israeli network, then again, because the show is dealing with Palestinian-Israeli conflict - because the show, half of it, is in Arabic. This is not something that is obvious that the Israelis would watch.
DAVIES: Right. And it's interesting hearing you say that that the conflict is so omnipresent that it is almost boring to people. Why would you want to see a TV series about that? Was part of your purpose to say, no, there are things you don't know about these people? It is compelling in a way that you don't realize because you don't think about it deeply enough.
ISSACHAROFF: There are so many things that you don't know as Israelis. I mean, it's going to take us three hours just to start. But, of course, as Israelis, you don't know much about the Palestinian society. You don't know much about the Palestinians. I would say that 90 percent of the Israelis didn't meet Palestinians in their life - and vice versa, by the way. I mean, 90 percent of the Palestinians do not know who the Israelis are or what the Israeli society is like. And they only have what they see in Al-Jazeera or in Al-Aqsa television channel of Hamas. That's it.
So it is one of the biggest challenges to show the public - the Israeli public the other side, the enemy side - showing him as not a demon, not demonizing him as many of the media outlets are trying to do - but the opposite and making the audience still like the show, which is totally crazy. I mean, it's "Mission Impossible," and we don't have Tom Cruise. And this is the thing that, you know, I still do not really get it. How come that so many people in Israel love the show? I wouldn't say like the show. I would say love the show - obsessed with the show though it deals with what we call the enemy - Hamas.
DAVIES: You know, one of the most compelling things I've seen on a screen about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was the documentary "The Gatekeepers" by Dror Moreh, which is - I'm sure you're familiar with it.
DAVIES: I mean, he interviews all of the past leaders of Shin Bet, the intelligence service. And all of them, you know, think we have to get past this conflict and resolve this with a two-state solution. And one of them said, early on when he was involved in fighting terrorism, you know, we were very good at tactics. We always had tactics to catch terrorists - to punish them, to foil plots. But there was never a strategy. We were never thinking about the long game. And I have to say that was one of the things that occurred to me as I watched the series "Fauda." This unit - these guys were deeply committed and really good at their craft, but nobody seemed to be thinking about what the endgame was.
ISSACHAROFF: I agree. I agree. And this is what we wanted. We wanted to have less, then again, strategy and messages and issues like that - but just to show people, the conflict as it looks from the ground level, as it looks from the sewage of the refugee camps and the small alleys of the West Bank. And how does it look? And we wanted to give a face and a name for this conflict. We wanted people to understand, you know, that being an undercover warrior wasn't just a kind of James Bond mission. But it had some very heavy prices on everyone - not only on the people that were fighting but also about their families, relatives, friends, etc. - and the same with the Palestinian side.
So if you're a terrorist, it's not that - that's it. I'm a terrorist. I'm going to fight the Israeli side and kill as many Israelis as possible. No, there's a price - a very heavy price that your family and friends would pay. And this is what we were trying to do at the end of the day.
DAVIES: Avi Issacharoff is co-creator of the Netflix series "Fauda," about an Israeli military unit that works undercover in the West Bank. We'll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with Avi Issacharoff. He is a veteran Israeli journalist and co-creator of the Netflix series "Fauda," about an Israeli military unit whose members speak Arabic and work undercover in the West Bank. Its first two seasons are available for streaming on Netflix. A third season is being written now.
You know, there's an interesting plotline in the series. We meet a police commander from the - who works for the Palestinian Authority. And we see him talking very comfortably with this Israeli intelligence captain, Captain Eyov, and at times exchanging sensitive information. I mean, Captain Eyov refers to him as my friend. Is this the way things worked?
ISSACHAROFF: In this specific example, yes, it's exactly like reality. It's not a police officer. It's an intelligence officer from the Palestinian intelligence - just like the ones that saved my life back then. And, yes, there is security coordination, cooperation between the two sides - between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. So though you hear Abbas attacking Netanyahu and Netanyahu attacking Abbas, etc., etc., you would find on the ground rare coordination between the security sides of Palestinian Authority and Israel.
ISSACHAROFF: And it includes giving information. It includes preventing terrorist attacks. And it includes arresting people that are belonging to terrorist organizations.
DAVIES: You said there are rare examples or frequent examples?
ISSACHAROFF: Frequent examples, but I'm saying rare coordination...
DAVIES: I see.
ISSACHAROFF: ...On the level of this coordination. I mean, it's outstanding to see it in front of your eyes. I mean, as a journalist, then again, I got to see it from time to time. And it's shocking the way that Palestinians and Israelis are working together in order to prevent Palestinians from going and killing Israelis.
DAVIES: Can you give us an example of that that shocked you?
ISSACHAROFF: In many of the attacks that were prevented in the last five years in the West Bank, you would find the involvement of the Palestinian intelligence. You would find that Palestinian intelligence officers interrogated people, got information, sent it to the Israeli side. Israeli side arrested these people - or even the Palestinian authorities themself did the arrests, passed the information to the Israeli side, passed the equipment - the military equipment, whether it's explosives or guns, etc., to the Israeli side.
One thing that I can tell you was a party that I was invited to - a colonel - an Israeli colonel that finished his job as being the commander of an area in the West Bank. And his colleagues, the Palestinian commanders of this area, invited him for kind of a goodbye party. And I was invited to go there with both sides as a journalist. And I was shocked because, then again, you hear so much about - ah, it's the Palestinians. No, it's the Israelis. We hate Abbas. Oh, we hate Netanyahu.
And then you go there, and you see 20 officers sitting on both sides of the table, celebrating a goodbye party for the Israeli officer. And it's like, what's going on? Is this real? And it is real - why? - because the personal connection is the one that matters from time to time - not always but from time to time - it's the personal connection between the officers, the intelligence people, the ones that don't matter.
DAVIES: You know, the show is visually really arresting. I mean, we see these overhead shots of Palestinian cities. Talk a little bit about shooting the series. You shot in the West Bank?
ISSACHAROFF: No. We shot in Israeli-Palestinian villages - meaning inside Israel-Arab villages, like Kafr Qasim, like Tira, Kafr Bara and others. There, then again, they're inside the Green Line. They're in the 1948 territories. So they're not outside the Green Line or considered to be Palestinian Authority area - not at all. But what we did is a kind of a trick. We took some drone footage, and we went to Nablus. We went to other places. And we took some pictures from above - from the drones - and used it inside the show.
DAVIES: And were neighbors welcoming to the crew - particularly once the series got to be better known?
ISSACHAROFF: The neighbors in the Arab villages that we were shooting in were very friendly, very welcoming. And I think that they loved the fact that we were there. Now, let me remind you that a project like that that involves around - more than 100 people, it's not only about nice or not nice. It's also about economy, meaning it brings people that needs to buy food, drinks, sometimes to sleep over, to use houses of people that get paid for that, of course. So it's not just out of being nice. I mean, they were very nice. Don't get me wrong. But it's also about getting some salaries and fees and economy.
DAVIES: The show has a pretty big international audience now, I guess. I mean, a lot of people that I know watch it in the States. Has the international reaction differed from the Israeli reaction?
ISSACHAROFF: I think that most of the reactions that I heard, read, saw were very, very positive all over the world, including Arab countries. They loved it. They want to have more. They want to have the second season. They want to see the third season, et cetera, et cetera. This is what we hear. When is the third season coming? When we finished the first season, when is the second season coming? So it's great. It's amazing. It's lovely. And I'm shocked again and again from the amount of support for this project that is coming from all over the world - really, from all over the world including Arab countries.
DAVIES: What do you hear from Arab countries?
ISSACHAROFF: Same reactions there again, that people want to have more, and they feel that it's almost real, and it's - it feels that it's very compelling from both sides, for both sides. And they just appreciate what they see on the screen.
DAVIES: One of the criticisms of the show that I've read is that it doesn't show enough of the occupation itself - you know, the wall, checkpoints, soldiers, et cetera. Is that a fair criticism?
ISSACHAROFF: I wouldn't say that it's fair. I think that, you know, it's coming from very political point of view. I think that, you know, the ones that are saying that you don't show the wall, you don't show the checkpoints - it's kind of a - sorry, but it's a joke. I mean, I can understand if they're saying, listen; you're coming from an Israeli narrative. I agree with that. Both of us are Israelis. But saying you don't show the wall or the checkpoints, it's complete, complete, complete blindness. Why? Because on the first season, for example, all the passages that you see from scene to scene, from the West Bank to Israel, you see a drone that is going east and west above the wall. So the wall is so deeply there.
The checkpoints - you see a checkpoint on the first episode. You see checkpoints on the other episodes. You see checkpoints, the terrible things happening over there. So how can you say that there are no checkpoints? I mean, what do you want me to say? Like, you want me to scream every episode, occupation, occupation, occupation? This is not the case. This is a show that describes the occupation. But just like in a love story - you know, when you make a love story into a movie, you don't sit over there for a whole 120 minutes and scream, love, love, love, love.
ISSACHAROFF: You see the love. You feel the love. This is a story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. But you don't see - you don't need to have screaming at my ear, occupation, occupation, occupation all during the 12 episodes.
DAVIES: Well, Avi Issacharoff, it's been great to have you. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
ISSACHAROFF: Thank you, Dave.
GROSS: Avi Issacharoff is an Israeli journalist and co-creator of the Israeli drama series "Fauda." Two seasons are now streaming on Netflix. He spoke with FRESH AIR's Dave Davies, who is also WHYY's senior reporter. After we take a short break, Justin Chang will review the new film "Searching," a mystery thriller whose story unfolds on the main character's computer screen. This is FRESH AIR.
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The new film "Searching," directed by the independent filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty, is a thriller that unfolds entirely through the perspective of a computer screen, starring John Cho as a man trying to locate his missing teenage daughter. The movie premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won both an audience award and a special prize for its innovative use of science and technology. Film critic Justin Chang has this review.
JUSTIN CHANG, BYLINE: The ingeniously high-concept whodunit "Searching" isn't the first movie to turn the big screen into a computer screen to make you feel as if you're eavesdropping on online conversations and surfing the Internet alongside its characters. You might have seen the 2014 horror movie "Unfriended," where a group chat suddenly turns deadly - basically, the Skype version of Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None."
As a thriller, "Searching" is less violent, more compassionate and equally gripping. As a sustained technical exercise, it's remarkable. It takes the mundane details of your average computer session, from video chats to browser windows, and spins them into a taut, surprising, sometimes uncomfortably voyeuristic crime drama. This may be the first feature written and directed by Aneesh Chaganty, a 27-year-old Bay Area native and former Google employee, but the intricacy of his visual design is matched by a talent for old-fashioned suspense filmmaking. Anyone who can wring tension simply from the pulsing colors of a screen saver clearly knows what he's doing.
Everything we see unfolds through the eyes of David Kim, a Silicon Valley widower played by John Cho. Because we're almost always looking at David's screen, we see his face only when it shows up on his webcam, like when he's FaceTiming with his 16-year-old daughter, Margot, played by Michelle La. The actors have a lovely rapport, and Cho's concerned-dad routine is at once funny, moving and completely dead on. When David sends Margot a text message playfully chiding her for not taking out the trash, he makes sure to include a photo of the overflowing garbage can. Margot replies that she'll empty it when she gets home that night, except that she never comes home, and David finds himself living every parent's worst nightmare.
The only clues to Margot's whereabouts can be found on her laptop, and not long after reporting her missing to the police, David begins scouring his daughter's hard drive for clues. At the advice of Detective Rosemary Vick, played by Debra Messing, he starts calling Margot's Facebook contacts and asking when they last saw her. He pores over Margot's calendar and Venmo account and even raids her personal video diaries. As he watches them, he realizes, to his shame, that he didn't know his daughter as well as he thought, nor did he see how profoundly lonely a person she had become.
Eventually, David has to confront the possibility that Margot ran away from home, though the fact that she called him three times the night of her disappearance would seem to contradict that theory. But much more will soon come to light, some of it involving Margot's online contacts and some of it involving David's younger brother, played by Joseph Lee. David goes after one of Margot's classmates who posts an offensive comment about her online, and Detective Vick orders him to take a step back.
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DEBRA MESSING: (As Detective Rosemary Vick) You can't assist in the investigation anymore.
JOHN CHO: (As David Kim) What does that - what does that mean?
MESSING: (As Detective Rosemary Vick) It means that we can't have someone this close to the case helping investigate it.
CHO: (As David Kim) All I'm trying to do is to help you find my daughter.
MESSING: (As Detective Rosemary Vick) You can't see things clearly.
CHO: (As David Kim) If it wasn't for me, not you, you and I would both be thinking that my Margot ran away. But because of me...
MESSING: (As Detective Rosemary Vick) We don't know that she didn't run away.
CHO: (As David Kim) You're cutting me off?
MESSING: (As Detective Rosemary Vick) You broke his jaw.
CHANG: Most of the other computer-screen thrillers we've seen, like "Unfriended" and the Elijah Wood shocker "Open Windows," played out in real time with no cuts or breaks. Watching them could be exhausting, but they also left you feeling hard-wired into the user's experience. Because "Searching" unfolds over the course of a week, Chaganty and his co-writer Sev Ohanian have to compress David's investigation into bite-sized chunks. The result may breathe and flow a little better as storytelling, but without the real-time element, it's also a less tense, less immersive experience. At key moments, the movie cuts to online news footage of the ongoing police investigation, and the summary feels like a bit of a cop-out, a lazy way to maintain the movie's gimmick.
The story's second half is packed with all manner of fiendishly clever surprises and red herrings, and I'm not sure if the twists are rendered more or less convincing by the movie's online-all-the-time interface. What does linger in the end, all too plausibly, is Chaganty's vision of an era in which every facet of life is increasingly mediated by technology, our relationships very much included. He leaves you with the possibility that in a world where everyone is connected, maybe no one is.
GROSS: Justin Chang is a film critic for the LA Times. If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like this week's interview with Andre Holland, the co-star of "Moonlight," "Selma," "42" and "The Knick" who now stars in the series "Castle Rock," check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews.
FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer today is Sam Briger. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie, Thea Chaloner and Seth Kelley. I'm Terry Gross.
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