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Etgar Keret:
Based on a True Story (2017)

Me and my high school friend, the director Stephane Kaas, made a film about our favorite writer, the Israeli Etgar Keret. Above all it’s an hommage to storytelling and jokes, the tools that help us survive life’s hardships.

The film is about Keret’s short stories and his absurd life. It’s a mixture of documentary filmmaking and fiction, autobiography and lies. To our surprise, Keret enthusiastically supported our wild plans.

We tried to investigate how Etgar Keret, with his many short stories and his ’truthful’ anecdotes, became such an amazing storyteller. After the suicide of his best friend, his storytelling became almost compulsive, an endless stream of answers to the question: why choose life?

We filmed Keret and his inner circle in Tel Aviv, Israel, within the sometimes harsh reality of Israeli society, and during his New York book tour. Family (Shira Geffen), friends (Gur Bentwich), and famous colleagues like Jonathan Safran Foer, Gary Shteyngart and This American Life host Ira Glass were interviewed as storytelling experts, and asked to retell their favourite Keret story.

To do justice to Keret’s associative thinking and his rich life story, we chose to use different storytelling techniques: animated fiction stories, made by BAFTA-winner Nina Gantz, reconstructions of Keret’s anecdotes, and a lively montage with back stage peeks.

We won two awards (Best Literature Doc and Best Debut) at the Master of Art Film Festival in Bulgaria, the Prix Italia, Best Documentary at the Warsaw Jewish Film Festival, The Jury Prize at Le Fifa and last but not least: an International Emmy Award!

Praise for the documentary:

“Everyone fell in love with the form and substance of this documentary about an author. Inspired by his subject’s incredible style, the director had the jury laughing out loud even as he offered a deep reflection on the art of storytelling. In a world that often seems senseless, Keret offers a way to reconcile ourselves with the absurdity of life, and his art is a breath of fresh air.”
-Le Fifa jury report

“These filmmakers invented a new way to do a documentary when they made this funny, beautiful, totally original film. New York! You’re lucky to have it in a theatre!”
-Ira Glass, Twitter

“The film unfolds Keret, showing off his poignant, funny sense of humor, his love of gags, his intensely personal way of looking at his own life, and that of Israeli society around him. And, through it all, Keret’s inimitable way of viewing humanity with a gently mocking but loving and quirky tone.”
–The Times of Israel

“A highly entertaining portrait that captures Keret’s vibrant personality, and transpires the inflicting excitement of two boys that grew up loving Keret’s work. (…) An uplifting experience, as playful as its subject. It’s that kind of film that leaves you inspired and longing for more.”
-The Modern Times Review

“Funny, endearing and moving portrait of the fantastic Etgar Keret”
–de Volkskrant

“Amazing documentary”
–Het Parool

“Original, imaginatively crafted documentary.” – De VPRO Gids

“Afterwards, you’re guaranteed to feel happy. Really happy.” -Jaap Robben, writer

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© Rutger Lemm