Finding Home in the Central Bus Station
Kristoffer Brugada, Philippines, found a Filipino community in an unlikely place while working on a project for university.
Introduction to Filmmaking in Tel Aviv
One of the reasons why I chose to study the MFA in Documentary Cinema program at the Tisch School for Film and Television at Tel Aviv University is its comprehensive curriculum. During our first term, we immediately got a taste of film production life as we took three production courses, one theory class, and one class dedicated to screening Israeli documentaries all throughout the semester. I really enjoyed the practical exercises given to us in our Directing and Cinematography classes, but it was the Ethnography Film class that excited me the most, because we would need to produce and direct our very own ethnographic film at the end of the term.
When we had our first meeting for our Ethnography Film class, my professor Ms. Tami Liberman immediately explained to us that we would need to submit a 10-minute short ethnographic film about a topic that we are interested in. I got enthused by the thought that I will be filming, writing, and editing all on my own, as it was my main purpose in studying here – to hone my craft further as an artist and find my voice as a filmmaker. In this class, I was exposed to various styles of producing and directing ethnographic films and learned invaluable techniques from studying the works of foremost ethnographers in film history, but my professor said one thing really struck me: studying people means getting to spend time with your subjects and carefully observing their ways of life.
We were asked to pitch our initial ideas for our final project a few weeks into the term. Having no contacts here in Tel Aviv whatsoever, I looked for possible leads that could help me with finding a possible topic to film. I searched online if there are Filipino organizations in Israel, and lo and behold, I stumbled upon the largest network of Filipino communities on Facebook! They immediately met up with me at the very place that became the topic of my ethnographic film, the Ha’Tachana Ha’Merkazit, or the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station.
Who would have thought that I would find my own tribe in the most obscure place in Tel Aviv?
Kristoffer interviewing a member of the Filipino community at the Central Bus Station, Tel Aviv.
Discovering Community Through Filmmaking
On my first visit, I started filming inside, with no specific goal in mind yet. I just wanted to feel the area visually and aurally. Out of the footage I got, I edited a pitch trailer and submitted it along with a proposal to my professor. Prof. Liberman commended my initial work, and suggested that I should consider including myself in the film, as I was also a new migrant to the country. She said that it would also be interesting to see my perspective as a newcomer to Tel Aviv, having to adjust to the culture and way of life of Israelis while making a film about my own community.
When I started filming in the Tachana Merkazit, some of my classmates warned me to be careful in the area, as it is quite known as a dangerous area. Having grown up in Manila, specifically in a slum area there, I got used to dealing with unpredictable scenarios and I learned to take calculated risks in my former job as a TV producer in the Philippines. I witnessed some Illicit activities in the area surrounding the central bus station, but filming inside the complex was another story. It felt like home to me.
Each of the building’s levels seem to turn into cultural hubs as thousands of migrant workers from all over the world go there to shop and eat and spend time with their fellowmen. The 4th floor of the station is specifically dedicated to the Filipino community. I was able to interview several Filipino store owners and food sellers inside, along with many people who work as caregivers, the predominant work of Filipinos here in Israel. Listening to their stories of struggle as foreign workers really opened my mind to the harsh realities that we have in our home country where no work opportunities are available to them, and if there are, the salaries are not comparable to the opportunities outside. Despite the challenges, Filipino immigrants are still able to enjoy their lives here in Israel, as they got to create a community that makes them feel at home, despite being away from their respective families. I spent two months going back and forth to film my subjects, and despite the warnings given to me initially about the dangers in the area, I felt safe being with my fellow countrymen. I really never expected that I would find a home away from home inside a bus station.
Finding Your Style
When I showed my initial draft to the class, my professor said that my filming style follows the aesthetics of Jean Rouch, one of the filmmakers we studied in class and is considered the father of cinema verité in France. The class said that my ethnographic film showed a side of this city that they don’t usually see, and it was so surprising to see the Central Bus Station has somewhat become a hub for various migrant cultures here in Tel Aviv. These valuable comments from both my professor and classmates really helped me in thinking in how I could improve my film further. This is one thing I appreciated in studying documentary cinema here in Tel Aviv – by receiving feedback from our classmates’ and mentors’ diverse perspectives, we improve our work and expand our horizons.
I must admit that studying abroad and adjusting to a new country with an entirely different culture is quite challenging, but I didn’t expect that my studies would also help me feel at home because if it weren’t for my ethnographic class, I wouldn’t have been introduced to the Filipino community who have somewhat become my family away from home. I now get invited to this community’s parties and out-of-town trips, and it’s really quite interesting that a class project would be one of the keys to my adjustment as an international student living in Israel.