Producer Evgeny Afineevsky
Without missing a beat, Golanís film company became New Cannon Incorporated, with a shiny new version of the Cannon logo and the same old production slate. Golanís partner in this company is young Israeli filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky.
Reflecting on the legacy of the Cannon name, Afineevsky said, "We are doing a remodeling and reconstruction of the old [Cannon] stuff, with new beautiful stories of our time. Menahem wants to use the same concepts of low-budget movies with great stories and slowly rebuild Cannon to make it New Cannon."
Afineevsky promises that one of New Cannonís titles, most likely Death Game, will play in theaters internationally this fall. Of New Cannonís dometic theatrical chances, Afineevsky said, "If we make a good movie, you never know. Menahem is talking to people; I am talking to people. He has done it before, and you never know what can happen."
I MET WITH Evgeny Afineevsky at his New Cannon office September 30, 2002.
Born and raised in Kazan, Russia, he moved to Israel in 1991 at age 17. He came to Los Angeles in 1999 and set up Menahem Golan's new film production company, New Cannon. At the end of 2001, the two went their separate ways.
Evgeny speaks with a thick Russian accent: "In this town, I've realized, Menahem burned a lot of bridges. Menahem is not an easy person [to get along with]. He doesn't listen. He makes major mistakes. It's not the way I want to handle people. I don't see action movies in my life. I see comedies. I see beautiful dramas like we did in India. In a few years, I'd like to do a beautiful movie about the Holocaust. The Romanian government has offered me a grant of $1 million for this Holocaust movie. The Israeli Holocaust Foundation has offered another $500,000.
"I am not rushing. I am going step by step. I am researching what people want to see. Menahem started the martial arts and ninja [boom]. He invented Jean Claude Van Damme. Right now with all the problems with terrorism, it's painful, and it is not so interesting to see all fighting [movies]. After a hard day, people want something that will lift their spirits. I went to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding and people were laughing. The jokes were simple."
Luke: "Do you have any best Menahem Golan stories?"
Evgeny: "I have a lot. We were meeting the prime minister of India. I created the meeting. Menahem tried to involve the prime minister of India in the moviemaking business and why it is important to support the industry. The prime minister is much older than Menahem. His mind is on Kashmir and Pakhistan. They have a huge country with problems with people living in the streets. Yes, Bollywood is number one in making [the largest number of] movies. Why does Bollywood need to be supported when they have their own money to make movies?
"It was funny. Through the whole conversation, Menahem was trying to explain, explain, explain, to him. In the end, Menahem, who likes to jump, said, 'Maybe you will give some message to the Israeli nation?' And here the prime minister jumped from his chair. 'No. I am not a profit. I can't give any message.' Everybody in Israel laughed about this.
"I was in Cannes this year. Menahem and I had a fight. Later that day, we were at a party and all of Menahem's ex-partners were there - me, Yoram Globus, Armand Gazarian... Everyone was sitting at a different table and not talking to each other."
Luke: "Have you met Yoram?"
Evgeny: "My office in Tel Aviv was in front of Yoram's office. Yoram and I are not talking because of my relationship with Menahem. Yoram's wife has a casting agency in Tel Aviv."
Luke: "What are the reputations of Menahem and Yoram in Israel?"
Evgeny: "Some people are afraid to work with Menahem because of money stories. Yoram is different. Yoram owns cinemas. He's a businessman. Menahem is upside down. During the period of Cannon, Menahem was the movie maker and Yoram was the businessman. Menahem can make money and immediately lose it.
"Menahem and I separated because I could see he did not care about quality. I have a European education. I try to do things perfectly. Menahem has no patience. He has a passion to make movies but he rushes to make them and finish them and make another one. He doesn't seem to care what happens with the movie.
"We've just finished Return From India. He doesn't care about festivals. All my fights with him were about festivals. He doesn't want to give it to various festivals. It's stupid because festivals make publicity for a movie. His mind is already on an action movie in Thailand. He's found another investor who's willing to lose his money."
Luke: "What's your sense about how Israelis are perceived in Hollywood?"
Evgeny: "When you are foreign, you sometimes feel that you are out of the family of Hollywood. But you still have a lot of big name producers like Haim Saban and Arnon Milchan. You still hear bad things about Israelis in the movie industry. I heard a lot of terrible stories about Israelis that Menahem invented. Having Menahem's name attached to me was a terrible thing because Menahem was like a father for all these Israelis... When you talk to some of the major talent agencies, and you mention Menahem's name, they close the door.
"I had a good relationship with Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks, producers of America Beauty. I introduced Menahem to them. It separated us for a long time afterwards. MGM people were more than happy when I told them that I had separated from Menahem. A lot of people were happy that I had separated from him.
"Menahem gave many actors their start. Sharon Stone's first movie was [1985's] King Solomon's Mines, produced by Menahem.
"Menaham is funny but he can be tough and hard if he wants. He can destroy a person's life.
"I changed the New Cannon name to New Generation because I don't want people to make an association between me and Menahem. New Cannon is a good name for a video label. They know that Cannon makes Chuck Norris movies and they love those types of movies. They don't know about the stories behind the movies [of people not getting paid]... To them, New Cannon is a label like Paramount and MGM."
Luke: "Is it difficult to get access to stars through agents?"
Evgeny: "It would be if I used Menahem or Yoram's name. It's easier to be somebody new in Hollywood than to be attached to somebody old."
Evgeny shows me video of him and Menahem visiting the Indian prime minister in New Delhi in October 2001. The video was widely played on Israeli TV.
Evgeny and Menahem wear ancient Indian dress - white pajamas. The prime minister's assistant asks Menahem why he didn't shoot his movie, The Return From India (based on the novel by A.B. Yehoshua), in Hindi, the Indian language. Instead, Menahem shot in English and Hebrew using mainly Israeli actors.
Menahem: "In India, they are used to dubbing. You can do it very cheap. But America doesn't accept dubbing."
Evgeny tells me: "Menahem couldn't remember the Prime Minister's name, so every five minutes he was asking for his name. Even where we're driving to the PM's house, he's asking the driver for his name."
Menahem keeps repeating the PM's name inaccurately.
Menahem poses for a picture with the PM.
Evgeny tells me: "Menahem thought he could show this picture to go everywhere and to do whatever he wants. He was arrested. Menahem thinks he's a god. It's usually like this. Menahem thinks he's a god."
Tape shows Menahem telling the PM: "This is the biggest film done by my company and it was done in India. It's a love story. It's not political. It's not about wars... What I would like is for the Prime Minister to give a message to the people of Israel..."
PM demurs: "I am not a profit."
Menahem: "I don't know if you know, but many Israeli youngsters come here to India."
PM nods. He knows this well. "After military service."
Menahem: "This book is published in America by Doubleday and it paints India in a beautiful light.
"I feel like Israel and India have a lot in common. A relationship between such a great country such as yours and what we've built in the last 30 years in Israel..."
PM: "I know what your home means after centuries of hardship... You represent an old civilization and way of life.. India's relationship are friendly. I visited Israel after the 1967 War. I would love to go there again."
Menahem: "I will send this message to Mr. Sharon, our prime minister, and I'm sure he will invite you. I'm also speaking as a film man. India is the number one country in the world for making [the largest number of] films. You make about 1000 films a year. We [Israel] make about 10-20 films a year. A co-production between Indian filmmakers and filmmakers from Israel would be advantageous...
"My government paid me a grant of $500,000 for this film Return From India."
I'm sure the PM already knows this but Menahem lectures him anyway about his own industry.
When Sharon, an Israeli cabinet minister, visited the US around 1990, he phoned Menahem Golan about his failing company Cannon and asked if there was anything he could do. That's the only time the two men have spoken according to Evgeny.
Menahem says his movie Return From India "gave wealth to many thousands" of Indians who worked on the film. Menahem's production spent about $500,000 in India.
Menahem tells the PM he was nominated for four Oscars. He never won.
Menahem: "My wish is to finish this film and to show it to the whole film. This is a story about the philosophy of India, the spirit of India. It's about peace and love. We need peace and love."
Evgeny: "Menahem loves to make movies, good or bad. Most of our fights with Menahem were because Menahem didn't care about the quality of the movie. Menahem would try to save money on things that you can't save money.
"We shot in this outlying part of India, the end of the world, where Kipling wrote the Jungle Book. We had big fights. If you are here spending money to show places that nobody has seen before, Menahem's rushing. It's our disconnection. He's the old generation. We're the new generation. That's why I've called my company New Generation. Our video arm is still called New Cannon, because many people seek Cannon videos."
Luke: "What's the film industry like in Israel?"
Evgeny: "It's bad. Israel only makes about ten movies a year. Israel doesn't even have labs to develop the film. So we have to send our negatives to Romania, Bulgaria or London. I'm a member of the Israeli Academy [Israel's equivalent of America's Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars]. I was invited to the screenings [for Israel's version of the Oscars]. There weren't many quality movies. Menahem has the reputation in Israel as the father of the industry but he's squandered that. Not many like him."
Evgeny shot a live heart surgery for Return From India. He screened it for me and I felt squeamish. Return stars Israeli's top stars including Assi Dayan, son of Israeli war hero Moshe Dayan, and singer Riki Gal.
Menahem and Evgeny signed papers in Israel that they would not show a suttee (where a widow is burned at the funeral of her husband) but they portray one anyway in the movie "because it was in the book. It's a demonstration of love. They believe they are saving the widow's soul by allowing her to sacrifice herself."
Marat from Tel Aviv writes on Imdb.com: "Menahem Golan hasn't directed a movie in Israel for 25 years. This film version of A. B. Yehoshua best-seller [Return From India] was Golan's dream for many years and the bottom line is it was worth waiting for. The story evolves around a young Israeli doctor, who comes to India determined to bring back the sick daughter of his boss, but finishes falling in love with her mother. Fast pacing, hot erotic scenes, nice plot. There are some flaws in the adaptation, sometimes the pacing is too fast, but this movie is certainly a success. After 40 years of making movies, Golan finally made his best one."
Evgeny wants to give George Bush a copy of his new movie Crime and Punishment, based on a script by Menahem Golan of the Fyodor Dostoevsky classic novel. Bush reportedly finished reading the novel a few months ago. Evgeny says he has friends in the Bush administration.
Evgeny plans to go into production this fall on a comedy - "Oy vey - My Son is Gay." Two families, one Jewish and one Italian, struggle to come to terms that their sons are gay and in love. "We've had the script for a long time. Menahem has dreamed of making it. I gave the script to Lily Tomlin and she gave it to Lainie Kazan."
Luke: "What's the budget range for your movies?"
Evgeny: "$1-6 million."
I spent an hour watching Golan's rendering of Crime and Punishment and it was so bad I had to stop watching.
A friend had a similar reaction. "It's a horrible movie. It was boring. The acting was bad. Menahem Golan should not direct. Can you believe him having the chutzpah of adapting a Dostoevsky novel? The dialogue is horrible. How could the actors agree to such bullsh--?"