The art of storytelling is not in the tale itself but significantly in the way it is told. It’s ironic that perhaps the greatest professionals are those whom help us find the fascinating aspects of the seemingly mundane. Someone like focus puller Minami Moriyama doesn’t concern herself with public praise; after all, the title “focus puller” is deceptive in the importance the position actually holds. Without her constant attention to detail and focus (pardon the pun) on discovering the minute details that clarify each moment of a film, the efforts of all others involved in the production would be useless. Watching Itai (Lior Malka) repeatedly state, “A tree is not just a tree” in the film Tree #3, one gets a sense of how essential the artistic commitment to excellence is for those like Moriyama who excel outside the spotlight but not outside greatness. This film about a young Israeli-American boy’s struggle to unearth the extraordinary mirrors what creatives like Minami utilize as an integral part of creating this film. Tree #3 received numerous awards including wins at the Cordillera International Film Festival, Coronado Island Film Festival, Hollyshorts Film Festival, Palm Springs International ShortFest, USA Film Festival, and many others.
While the script intrigued her, Ms. Moriyama concedes that her decision to come aboard this production was a result of the experience she hoped to have working with DP Zilong Liu, whose work she was familiar with, as well as broadening her horizons working with a cast largely made up of child actors. She confides, “Well, it’s important for me to state that these child actors were very professional but I didn’t know that would be the case when I signed on. As a filmmaker, we grow through the experiences we have professionally and I was prepared for a difficult situation if it presented itself as there is always something to learn. I will say that the environment was quite challenging for a focus puller. We shot in a school, and there were around fifteen to twenty children between main characters and supporting actors. The pace was quick but again, everyone was so professional.”
The moments in which Minami’s work is so evident are typically the scenes in which you are lost in the action and conversation. When Itai has a heavy discussion about his impeded audition at a family dinner, the long dialogues of the different characters around the table are perfectly presented due to the clarity Ms. Moriyama offers. The climactic moment of the film in which Itai is given the opportunity to show that his passion and preparation for the theater is absolute is located in moments of overpowering spotlights and shadows. The intensity of this moment never distracts from the actors’ performances because Minami as the focus puller ensures that each silhouette and white spotlighted scene is clear. One only needs to experience a film in which this has not been so expertly achieved to realize how disarming it can be when not presented well.
Tree #3 is about a young boy named Itai who has been yet again cast as a background tree in the middle school play. Itai is an Israeli immigrant who displays the ambition that immigrants to American are known for. The real lesson of this film is about the creative spirit and unrelenting pursuit of a vision. When Itai goes rogue and reinvents his role for the play, the teacher shoots him down stating, “This is a lesson you need to learn.” This becomes a remarkable turning point for the story as it presents the struggle of the individual as well as that of an immigrant family in America. Through Itai’s interaction with his grandmother, we witness the wisdom transference from one generation to another and the revelation of what we all can learn from working together. Every moment of the middle school play performance in Tree #3 elicits tears of joy as Itai takes his opportunity to display that “A tree is never just a tree.” In a year when you are searching for a joyful moment that reaffirms your belief in the goodness of people, Tree #3 is the answer.
Writer: Coleman Haan