Life According to Ohad is not an easy film to watch. Writer/director Eri Daniel Erlich spent three years following his friend and fellow animal-rights activist for this story, which follows a young man named Ohad as he tries to reconnect and reason with his meat-eating family. The struggles — and knock-down drag-out fights — between Ohad and his parents are brutal, but they also send a strong message about activism, family, and fighting for what you believe in.
See ohad-doc.com. How did you come to meet Ohad? My relationship with Ohad began 15 years ago. That’s when I first came to Tel Aviv in order to join the association for animal rights and work with them. The connection with Ohad was immediate. However the “conventional” work that the association was doing was not enough for us, so together with another activist we decided to save animals and cause damage for those who hurt them through the meat industry.
Our first objective was to neutralize and burn a big cattle slaughterhouse in central Israel. We began studying the place in terms of operational hours and times when it’s empty of workers and animals. We wanted to destroy the building that is responsible for the mass slaughter of innocent lives, but not to cause harm to lives ourselves. After two month we realized that it was too big of an objective for us to take as our first. So we chose to start smaller one. We made nightly rounds in Tel Aviv where we sprayed graffiti taglines against harming animals and glued keyholes of McDonalds and butcher shops. With time these actions stopped, but not the need to act. Ohad and I continued manning information stands in the streets where we handed out flyers and tried to add people to our cause by switching to veganism. A year later I found that video is the best tool to convey messages, so I began studying filming and editing. Ohad continued with the fieldwork.
Initially, what spoke to you about his story? First of all, it’s a touching family story about Ohad’s rift from the people closest to him — like so many like him, not only in animal liberation context. Many families find themselves in situations like these when a child decides to become newly religious or goes against his family’s religious line or in cases of coming out stories. [It can happen] in any case of going against your own family’s core values. Ohad’s family story moved me and made me think of my own struggle with my family’s value system. Ohad’s authenticity and honesty are also very strong. You don’t need to be an “animal lover” to see that and to feel his pain. Human connection is already such a universal, emotionally charged issue, and in Ohad’s story it becomes even more meaningful when it emphasizes his altruism. He is the one who’s fighting for the weakest lives on earth — the animals. In addition, this was a unique opportunity to report what is happening to animals being raised in the food industry and to tell the story of those who dedicate their lives to stop this injustice.
Where did you stand on animal rights issues prior to starting this project? And how (if at all) did making this film change your views? I’ve been an animal rights activist long before this production and in fact, this film was a way for me to convey all the pain in this issue and the frustration in trying to explain it to the people around me — especially to those close to me. What did change in me during this production was my feelings towards family issues. Like Ohad, I also had a problem accepting my own family’s choices (all of them are true Argentinian meat lovers). Ohad’s three-years process with his family influenced my own. All the family dinners we shot, the gatherings, the conversations, the fights — all of them reminded me of similar events with my family and compromises that I had to make. You can say that through making this film I got to know Ohad’s parents’ point of view that I assume is similar to my own parent’s view, and the importance of keeping the family together. I realized that you can find important values there too.
What’s your relationship like with your own family? And has it ever been strained over something outside of your own interpersonal dynamic? Today I’m happy to say that my mother is now a vegan, my sister will soon follow, and my father and brother are showing interest. Their understanding brings me closer to them. It’s true that in the past our relationship was very problematic and full of arguments, just like Ohad’s was with his family.
I guess that the biggest challenge was not knowing where that tricky relationship was going. The meetings were very charged, on the break of explosion even, there was no way of knowing how the film will end or even if we will be able to complete it. There were many hard moments when it was not clear whether the film had a future. But that’s documentary filming, or at least the was what I was doing. I allowed my protagonist to guide me through his world and his choices were the steering wheel for the whole film.
What was the biggest take-away for you? What did the film teach you about yourself? This is my first film. Making it taught me a lot about cinema, relationships, teamwork, and mainly about what it is like to work with a documentary protagonist who’s revealing his whole inner world in front of me and the camera.
What do you hope people take away from the film? In this we attempt to show a different viewpoint of our society by turning to the sidelines that most cinema and TV viewers are not aware of. There you find a world comprised of anger and desperation towards the status quo, a strong desire for change that is manifested by total dedication to the cause. All of this alongside the belief that by keeping active there just might be a better world in the end. I attempted to capture with my camera the extreme conflict with the current order of things that threatens to swallow the individual fighting against indifference in hopes that this will allow the viewer to see a different side to his own life. There’s a very deep misunderstanding regarding social change activists like Ohad and his “over sensitivity.” This sensitivity is often perceived as a disconnection to reality. But in fact, those activist are much more connected to what’s really happening in our reality, which isn’t as pleasant as one would like to think.