Killed by Hamas, Israeli filmmaker was inspired by border horrors

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TEL AVIV – In 2008, when Yahav Winner was 22, his best friend’s father died in front of him, killed by a rocket fired out of the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group.

Almost 15 years later, as an established filmmaker, Winner made a short movie called “The Boy”, looking to come to terms with the trauma that had marked him for life.

But just as the film was due to be released, Winner himself died at the hands of Hamas, killed on Oct. 7 when Palestinian gunmen burst out of Gaza and attacked southern Israeli communities, including the Kfar Aza kibbutz, where he lived with his wife Shaylee Atary and their baby daughter, Shaya.

The family had taken refuge in their safe room, but when militants looked to smash through a window, Winner had held it tightly shut, giving time for Atary and Shaya to flee.

“We had a little glance, not even like a long goodbye, and he pushed a window against them, and I ran away with the baby, no shoes, no nothing on me,” Atary told Reuters.

Several days later, Atary learned that Winner had died next to the window he had held shut for so long, killed by militants who had fired grenades and bullets into the house.

Five weeks after his death, “The Boy” is being screened to audiences in Tel Aviv as a tribute to Winner. During a Nov. 11 screening, a scene involving characters taking shelter during a rocket raid drew cries and tears from audience members.

“So the film is like a closure to his experience he went (through). And it’s very weird he came back to the place where he saw Jimi Kdoshim die in front of him, murdered from the rocket, and then he was murdered,” said Atary.

“I always think that it’s a weird circle.”

Atary and Winner, who had studied together in film school, were an artistic power couple in Kfar Aza, one of a number of small Israeli communities built along the border with Gaza.

Winner was the director, and Atary was his editor, making all of their films locally on a limited budget, hiring local residents as actors and extras instead of casting professionals.

“He was the only opinion that mattered to me. Even if everybody says it sucks, if he says it’s good, maybe there is something in it,” said Atary.

“It’s very hard for me to understand that the only person that matters to me, in a matter of art, and friend, is … gone,” she said, holding back tears.

    Atary is still in the midst of editing “Kibbutz Legend”, Winner’s fifth and final film, which they completed shooting shortly before his death.

In the movie, both Winner and Atary, who was pregnant at the time, act as the leads, and the supporting cast were all friends and family from Kfar Aza. Many of the cast members were also killed in the Gaza militant rampage on Oct. 7.

“So all of the people I see on the screen, I see the trauma, but because of that, I feel the necessity to do that film,” said Atary. “And I will show the place that we once had. And it was a beautiful community that helped each other and volunteered.” REUTERS

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