He was born in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and lives in New York City, but Ido Mizrahy is emphatic about his identity.
“I’m an Israeli,” he says bluntly.
His latest two films are riveting examinations of police corruption in New York City and the fading career of the “world’s most frequently gored bullfighter,” but he repeats emphatically that he is a citizen of Israel.
The 33-year-old Mizrahy has been living here since he was 18, after a childhood in Tel Aviv that included study at the prestigious Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, extensive theater work and a stint acting on the hit TV series “Shabatot VeHagim.”
So how does a nice Israeli boy end up creating riveting cinematic portraits of an infamously crooked NYPD detective (“Patrolman P,” which will be playing at the JCC in Manhattan, Tuesday, April 28 at 7:30 p.m.) and the most unfortunate torero (“Gored,” which premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival Thursday, April 16)?
“Stories have to feature a strong narrative component that will attract me,” Mizrahy says. “I always start with a character, a person I don’t understand but want to understand. Maybe he holds the key to something about myself.”
Bill Phillips, the detective at the center of “Patrolman P,” was a cop who was caught with his hand in the metaphorical cookie jar. Consequently, Phillips was “persuaded” to testify at length and in detail against his colleagues before the Knapp Commission in the 1970s. Not long afterwards, he was accused of a double-homicide, tried and found guilty and sentenced to prison. To this day he says he was set up by fellow cops he had ratted out.
Antonio Barrera is a mid-level matador, not untalented but not a great artist either. In order to compensate for his shortcomings in the bullring, the Spanish-born Barrera has always been especially aggressive and reckless, with the result that over the course of his career he has been gored 23 times. Now a husband and father of two, he is winding down his career with a farewell performance in Mexico.
I suggest to Mizrahy that both of his protagonists are products of, as Geoffrey Gray’s script for “Patrolman P” says, “a fraternity with its own codes and language.” You are either in the fraternity or you are a “civilian” and considered incapable of judging the conduct of insiders.
Does he perhaps see a similarity — particularly in the current atmosphere in international affairs — to being an Israeli?
He laughs, then says, “When you talk to another Jew, you want to check their ID [in terms of their attitudes on Israel] so the conversations doesn’t get too crazy. I don’t know if that’s what attracted me to these characters, but I like the analogy.”
He explains, “I shy away from getting to political about this, but I admit there is a feeling of shared experience, very unique to Israelis. It can lead to a sense of entitlement and a rejection of the opinions and experiences of others, I suppose.”
He finds a more compelling parallel in the familial nature of those three worlds. Phillips is a third-generation cop, Barrera the son of a failed torero who raises fighting bulls. Although he was born in the U.S., Mizrahy is a son of Israeli parents to whom he is still close. He visits them a couple of times a year and hooks up with fellow Israeli filmmakers he has known since school every chance he gets.
Does he think about an Israeli-themed film, fiction or documentary?
“I do, yeah,” he says enthusiastically. “I have a couple of ideas, and it will require me jumping into the swamp of Israeli politics. But it would also be a nice excuse to spend more time at home.”