Israeli director Rama Burshtein-Shai focuses on an unlikely attraction in her eight-episode series “Fire Dance,” now debuting at TV festival Series Mania in Lille, France. Faigie (Mia Ivryn) is just 18 when she starts paying closer attention to Nathan, thirtysomething married son of their ultra-Orthodox community’s leader. Produced by Yes TV, Firma Productions and Kuma Studios, it has Yes Studios handling international sales.
“I don’t think it’s a story about impossible love. It’s a story about how you deal with passion,” Burshtein-Shai tells Variety. “You can get burnt or you can shut it all down, so what will you do?”
Arguing she is “all about hope” in her work, Burshtein-Shai doesn’t shy away from despair in “Fire Dance,” opening with Faigie’s suicide attempt. When Nathan helps her, it marks the beginning of their bond.
“Everything changes in that moment. She allows herself to count on him, which is a big step. She starts to change,” says the helmer. Noting that while her characters may differ in age and life experiences, they influence each other in an equal manner.
“Fire Dance” is the first series for the New York-born filmmaker, also behind such features as “Fill the Void” and “The Wedding Plan.”
“I moved from cinema to television because I wanted to deal with side stories more. I need this kind of space now and once you taste it making a series, it’s hard to go back,” she says.
Several recent shows tried to explore the reality of Haredi communities, but “Fire Dance” is a different proposition, insists Burshtein-Shai. Mostly because she still belongs to it as well.
“I am religious. If you talk about something like [Netflix’s] ‘Unorthodox,’ the woman [Deborah Feldman] who wrote that story left the community. But there are not many people who talk about it from the inside,” she notes.
“I wasn’t even born into it. I became a part of it when I was 27 years old and it was a very conscious choice. I love these people, but you always have things to say, even about the things you love.”
“Unorthodox” star Shira Haas is also attending Series Mania this year as an International Competition juror.
While Burshtein-Shai will tackle multiple problems in the series, being critical was never her intention, as she opted for complex portrayals instead.
“I don’t believe in looking at something and saying: ‘It’s evil.’ It’s more interesting when you recognize yourself in these characters. They aren’t bad – they are complicated.”
She wanted Nathan, played by Levi Yehuda, to feel like a “rock star,” she says.
“He had to be charismatic in a manly way. Levi, a very big star here in Israel, is so talented. He is able to be many things, all at once. He is seductive, he wants power and he fights it, he loves women and stays away from them. Faigie is the same way. That’s how I like my characters – I want them to have it all, because we also have it all. This is us, or maybe it’s just me.”
Admitting the series will answer all the questions her viewers might have in the end, Burshtein-Shai decided to take her time with it, slowly unraveling the story.
“You are hooked, because you don’t know [what is happening]. I love shows like that. I think mostly about the audience – much more than I think about myself. But I want them to figure things out. What is Nathan doing here? Is he interested in her, is he in love with her? Is he playing with her or helping her out? For Faigie, being provoked is actually a good thing – she is half dead. It’s therapeutic,” she says.
“My producer said to me: ‘The whole world is selling satisfaction and you are selling passion.’ The rules of my world allow for this story to exist, because you are passionate for something you don’t have. If you had to choose one, what would you choose? I would always choose passion. Even when I don’t know what to do with it.”