By Orit Arfa/JNS.org
“Most bizarre” and “most trashy” are just some of the categories that made the 5th annual Berlin Music Video Awards (BMVAs) stand out. The weekend-long indie awards event was founded by Aviel Silook, an Israeli man from Kiryat Motzkin near Haifa, who sought to provide an open platform for celebrating video and performance acts—big and small—from across the globe.
“Bizarre” and “trashy” also describe some moments during the 2016 BMVA finale at the Columbia Theater on May 21, where Silook stood wearing a black spacesuit of sorts, and looking nervous and proud as he beheld his creation: beautifully and creatively dressed internationals networking around the art of making music videos. As some mingled outside in the party atmosphere, others stayed inside the theater to watch the off-the-wall, uber-creative, and sometimes hyper-sexual winning videos. Performance acts included a trashy nude performance by Stephen Paul Taylor, a bizarre musical performance by Lizzy and her drum-set dress, and the standard European electronic music. (Some of the song names were simply unfit to print in a Jewish newspaper.)
So how did this Israeli immigrant to Germany dare to make such a loud cultural impact with what has become a leading international music video festival?
“I started with the idea to make something maybe for just videos in Berlin, because I thought there was a potential, but apparently it seems like something was missing in the entire industry,” Silook told JNS.org outside the Gretchen Theater in the Berlin nightlife hub of Kreuzberg, on the eve of the opening night of this year’s festival.
Silook first came to Berlin for a German girlfriend and stayed after they broke up. In Israel, he worked as a DJ and event organizer. It all felt too small for him.
“In Israel you can try and try, and it seems like everybody thought about everything before,” he said. “But here there are many opportunities and you don’t need a lot of money. You just really need to be nice to people and it’s enough for them. Money doesn’t play the same role in Berlin as it does in other places in the world.”
Silook started out in Berlin as a DJ—with a residency at Berlin Meschugge, a local Jewish party convener—and as an event organizer for stand-up comedy, swing dancing, and yes, topless parties. But the classic, meschugge Berlin party life left him unfulfilled, so he consulted with “bigger sharks” about his idea for a citywide music video awards festival that would take eccentric to the next level.
“Everyone told me, ’Yeah, go for it. Definitely. It’s for you and it’s for the city. And everything will be good. Don’t worry. We will help you also.’ And I just went for it,” said Silook, who worked on practically no budget for the festival’s first year, but eventually built up a team of sponsors and eager volunteers.
“I’m happy to say that one month ago, I quit my last ‘job’ that was not the BVMAs, and now I’m making a living off of this,” he said. (His last job, by the way, was cutting hair.)
Silook said he feels welcome as an Israeli growing a Berlin-based product. He praised the German city for its diversity and curiosity, calling it “a nice playground.” In typical “start-up nation” Israeli fashion, it was Silook’s improvisation, flexibility, persistence, and fearlessness that led to the festival’s success.
“I think this is what’s different about us, Israelis and Jews,” he said. “We’re not afraid to try.”
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