DGA Winner Alma Har’el Subverts What Film Can Be

Four years ago today, the bewitching film Honey Boy was released in the USA to instant critical acclaim. Honey Boy’s success is in its intimacy. The plot, already delicately personal, was elevated by the striking talent of its director. Honey Boy was not director Alma Har’el’s first feature film, nor her first success. However, it did represent the first time many mainstream audiences across the world were given the chance to connect with her work. And so today we celebrate that chance, and the resplendent career of Alma Har’el.

Alma Har’el was born in Tel Aviv (Israel) in 1976. As a young woman, she threw herself into the vibrant world of visual performance. At live music gigs, Alma worked as a Video Jockey (VJ) by editing videos live in front of amazed audience members. Alma’s projects in the worlds of music and video editing soon brought her to the perfect intersection of the two: music video directing. Her talent behind the camera spoke for itself. Alma’s time directing music videos found her nominated for a MTV Music Video Award and Music Video Production Awards.

In 2011, Alma embarked on directing her first film, Bombay Beach. The documentary follows human stories which intersect on the sands of the California desert. Each person viewers meet represents not another character, but another chipped puzzle piece of the American dream. Only, in Alma’s directing, she does not attempt to force these pieces together. Rather, she films their unique angles and bends, as well as the cracks which make up the sweltering, arid landscape which surrounds them. Bombay Beach won Best Feature Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Alma’s next feature project also came in the form of a subversive, human-focused documentary. LoveTrue explores different types of love, and both the lucky and unlucky who feel the most universal human emotion for themselves. LoveTrue premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016. It won Best Documentary at the Crested Butte Film Festival and Grand Prix Best Documentary at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

Alma makes even the harshest, bleakest scenes shine.

Though with Honey Boy in 2019, Alma stepped into the world of fiction, the film still carries with it documentary aspects. Indeed, Alma’s experience in the role of documentary filmmaker is vital to the success of the film itself. Honey Boy is the autobiographical account of its writer and star Shia LaBoeuf’s life. It displays the true story of a child star’s adolescence. The relationship between the young boy and his father is nasty, guilt-ridden, and abusive. Yet Alma films each character, no matter how seemingly irredeemable, with care and complexity. She makes even the harshest, bleakest scenes shine. About the film, FF2 contributor Maiya Pascouche wrote, “The story is heartbreakingly raw, cinematically beautiful, and surprisingly vulnerable.” 

The vulnerability of the film obviously struck a chord with its critics, as Honey Boy was nominated for a whopping 34 awards, taking home nine. Alma herself specifically won the prestigious Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – First-Time Feature Film. 

Alma explained that while many audience members perhaps came to see Honey Boy curious about LaBoeuf’s childhood, they left having re-lived experiences within their own pasts.

In an interview with FF2 contributor Danielle Solzman about Honey Boy, Alma called the response to her film “emotional.” She explained that while many audience members perhaps came to the theater curious about Shia’s childhood, they left having re-lived experiences within their own pasts. “That’s been, really, I think, the most exciting thing about this film is to see that it can be both personal and kind of meta in many ways,” Alma reflected. 

The attention and praise which found Alma after the release of Honey Boy came as no surprise to previous consumers of her work. However, it still represented a strengthening of support behind her, and new opportunities for her genius to shine.

Over the course of her career, Alma has also worked as a director of commercials, which she infuses with her signature, unique and subversive style. Alma takes perfume and turns it into a mystical, scent-driven coming-of-age adventure. She turns an ad for beer into a feminist war cry—which befits her own experiences behind the camera.

During her time in advertisement, Alma focused her work past the screen itself and into outreach. She founded her project, Free the Bid, in 2016 in order to combat sexism in the ad industry. The movement, which has been backed by a myriad of corporations across the globe, demands that the talent of more women directors be utilized during shoots. Alma’s dedication to not only her own directing endeavors, but the endeavors of all women who share the same dream, shows her own commitment to better her community and to uplift the women all around her.

Alma Har’el is a talented and dedicated filmmaker. Her willingness and drive to subvert the form of what film, video, documentary, and even ad can be, speaks to her genius. That same genius will no doubt continue to thrill viewers in projects to come. Thank you, Alma, for your creativity.

© Reese Alexander (11/8/23) FF2 Media


Read Danielle Solzman’s interview with Alma here.

Read Maiya Pascouche’s review of Honey Boy here.

Visit Alma’s Wikipedia page here.

Visit Alma’s website here.


Featured Photo: Actor Noah Jupe as Otis in HONEY BOY (2019) directed by Alma Har’el. Photo Credit: © Amazon Studios / Entertainment Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: WRNT1N

Bottom Photo: Film directors Alma Har’el and Catherine Hardwicke at the 72nd Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards held at the Ritz Carlton on January 25, 2020. Photo Credit: © F. Sadou/AdMedia via ZUMA Wire / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: 2AR7PRC

Tags: Alma Har’el, Bombay Beach, Directors Guild of America, Directors Guild of America Award, Free the Bid, Honey Boy, LoveTrue, Shia LaBoeuf, Tribeca Film Festival

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Reese Alexander is currently a student at Barnard College, where she studies English literature, creative writing, and French. Reese enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been published in multiple campus publications, including Quarto, Echoes, The Barnard Bulletin, and The Columbia Federalist. Reese is most passionate about medieval literature, as she believes it illustrates the contributions of women artists throughout the centuries.
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