Alma Har’el is an Israeli-American film director best known for her award-winning films “Bombay Beach” and “LoveTrue”. She directed the upcoming Shia Labeouf film “Honey Boy” which opens November 8.
“Honey Boy” is a movie based on a script that Shia Labeouf wrote while in court-mandated rehab following his arrest in 2017. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film is “based on his own experiences, award-winning filmmaker Alma Har’el brings to life a young actor’s stormy childhood and early adult years as he struggles to reconcile with his father through cinema and dreams. Fictionalizing his childhood ascent to stardom, and subsequent adult crash-landing into rehab and recovery, navigating different stages in a frenetic career.”
In Honey Boy, Labeouf plays the abusive father to a young actor, played by Noah Jupe, with the adult version played by Oscar nominee Lucas Hedge. The film is based on a true story with Labeouf playing a version of his father who was an ex-rodeo clown, alcoholic, and felon.
Har-el described the film to Flood Magazine , “I think that this story specifically allows us to look into what relationships are possible between parents and children, fathers and sons, but also anybody that is carrying pain or needs to forgive somebody in order to be free and in order to love again.”
She also commented on the topic of masculinity, which is a central theme in the film, “I think that in cinema—and in general storytelling—we’ve all been brainwashed for decades by a single white male gaze that captures masculinity and its expectations in a way that perpetuates, more and more, a lack of compassion.”
Har’el was born and raised in Tel Aviv before moving to America to pursue a film career.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. She Got Her Start VJing Live Music Concerts and Directing Music Videos
Har’el started her film career in Tel Aviv as a VJ, editing films together on the fly during live concerts.
“My early work with moving images was as a VJ, I used to make video art and cut loops of videos then play them on stage in music concerts and clubs alongside musicians.” She explained to The Fifth Sense, “I wanted to be in a band but for my instrument to be a moving image. I think those years of playing images live in front of an audience gave me a special connection to the musical nature of images.”
Her only published work from her VJing days was a collaboration with the Balkan Beat Box. She directed an 11-minute video for their first album, released in 2005.
Har’el moved to Los Angeles and graduated to directing music videos for Beirut, Jack Peñate, and Sigur Ros. She was nominated for an MTV Video Music Awards, “Best Debut Director” for her work on Beirut’s “Elephant Gun”.
2. She Was Married to Famous Director Boaz Yakin
Har’el married fellow director Boaz Yakin in 2006. The couple met in Tel Aviv and moved to Los Angeles to continue their film careers. They divorced in 2012.
Yatkin wrote several blockbuster movies including The Rookie, A Price Above Rubies, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Now You See Me.
He moved on to direct the classic 2000 football movie Remember The Titans and the 2012 Jason Statham action movie Safe. Yatkin also produced the first two entries in the Hostel franchise, Hostel and Hostel: Part 2, with director Eli Roth.
He helped produce Har’el’s award-winning documentary “Bombay Beach” which is now taught in several universities including Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab and Film Center, as a genre-redefining work.
3. She Made a Passionate Speech at the Sundance Film Festival in Support of Women Directors and Asked the Film Industry To “Stop Sending Us to F****** Shadow White Men.”
Har’el is an activist and vocal advocate for underrepresented directors around the world. After “Honey Boy” won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Vision and Craft at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, the director took the opportunity to broadcast her views.
“I’m really proud to be here in a year where 44 percent of the directors are women. We’re here, we’re ready. Stop sending us to f****** shadow white men. We can do this. Let us work!” She said during her acceptance speech.
Her activism goes way beyond an award acceptance speech. Har’el Started the Organization “Free the Bid” with the mission to “address the gender imbalance among directors in the commercial industry.” according to the website. The organization asks brands to commit to “ask your ad agencies & content producers for one bid from a woman on every commercial you produce,” in order to give them a chance to bud on contracts and combat gender bias in the industry.
Har’el worked in the advertising agency for a few years and directed commercials for large brands including Airbnb and Chanel.
Her plan seems to be working. According to her website “over 40 of the worlds biggest ad agencies have taken the pledge along with 10 major brands including HP, Visa, eBay, Twitter, Levi’s and Airbnb. In the first year of Free The Bid’s implementation, pledged agencies BBDO and CP+B reported an increase of jobs directed by women of up to 400%.”
Her next step was to expand her vision beyond just women with “Free the Work“, a platform that Har’el described as “IMDB meets Spotify meets Instagram”. The platform allows underrepresented creative professionals to showcase their work and companies to browse it for free. The mission is to connect big brands with content creators in order to increase diversity.
Har’el described the functionality of the platform to AdAge, “What we want them to have is real-time data so they can see, OK this production company has not signed a woman and we’ve worked for them for four years, and they’ve never offered us anyone other than white men—so maybe we should work with somebody else?”
4. Her Father Was an Alcoholic
Shia Labeouf chose Har’el to direct his film because the two share a similar upbringing. Both were the children of alcoholics which is one of the main themes in “Honey Boy”
“My father is an alcoholic, I grew up in a social economical background that is a lot similar to his in many ways.” She told The Observer in an interview last month, “Looking at this story, even though it had different circumstances—and obviously I was not a child star on the Disney Channel—I could relate to the heart of it and make it, in many ways, feel like it is not just my story, but the story of every child that suffered from childhood trauma or addiction in the family.”
Har’el wanted to bring a unique perspective to addiction films and how to portray the trauma on screen. “What really struck me right away is the fact that I’ve seen films about addiction and I’ve seen films about actors, but I haven’t seen a lot of films that, as a child of an alcoholic and somebody who lived with a lot of what you see in the script—there’s something to be said about that perspective and how little it’s shown.” She said in an interview with Flood Magazine.
5. She’s Been Collaborating with Shia Labeouf Since 2012
LaBeouf was first introduced to Har’el’s work at Amoeba Records in Hollywood in 2012. The actor was searching for a Bob Dylan documentary when he stumbled upon Har’el’s 2011 documentary “Boombay Beach”.
Har’el came home one day to find an email in her inbox that simply read, “I’m Shia. We have to meet.” Wary of an imposter, Har’el told The Hollywood Reporter, “I said, ‘How do I know it’s really you?’” His response? “My mom’s favorite color is purple.” Har’el knew it was legitimate.
Labeouf and Har’el first collaborated in 2012 on the music video for Icelandic band Sigur Rós’ song “Fjögur píanó”. Labeouf starred in the video and Har’el directed.
Labeouf produced Har’el’s 2016 flim “LoveTrue” which went on to win the “Grand Prix Best Documentary Award” at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and “Best Documentary Feature” at the Crested Butte Film Festival.
Har’el received an email in 2017 from Labeouf, who sent her the script for “Honey Boy” from a court-mandated rehab facility. “I’ve read things that Shia wrote over the years. I always thought he was brilliant,” she told the Hollywood Reporter. “But nothing prepared me for this script.”