Secret bullet factory aims at big screen
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History in the cross-hairsHistory in the cross-hairs

Secret bullet factory aims at big screen

A Philadelphia newcaster turns Rehovot's clandestine munitions plant into a documentary

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Setting up a reenactment scene for Laurel Fairworth's 'The Secret Below the Hill,' her documentary about Rehovot's Ayalon Institute (photo credit: Wendy Ross)
Setting up a reenactment scene for Laurel Fairworth's 'The Secret Below the Hill,' her documentary about Rehovot's Ayalon Institute (photo credit: Wendy Ross)

It took a former Philadelphia newscaster to turn the story of Israel’s Mandate-era bullet factory into a documentary.

When Laurel Fairworth, an American television reporter, was in Israel for her first time with a Jewish Federation group, they stopped at Rehovot’s Ayalon Institute.

The clandestine ammunition factory was built by the Haganah below-ground, beneath a working bakery and laundry on Kibbutzim Hill, as the precursor to the IDF prepared for the 1948 War of Independence. There were 45 people working in the factory at the height of its activity, and they manufactured some 2.25 million bullets between 1946 and 1948 — an average of 40,000 bullets a day — right under the noses of the British troops.

Fairworth became enamored of the tale and wanted to turn it into a film.

“I loved the story so much, I could just see it,” she said.

Michael Lopatin, the documentary director hired by Laurel Fairworth, who first came up with the idea of making a film about the Ayalon Institute (photo credit: Wendy Ross)
Michael Lopatin, the documentary director hired by Laurel Fairworth, who first came up with the idea of making a film about the Ayalon Institute (photo credit: Wendy Ross)

Fairworth made it back to Israel last week to film the first part of the documentary, which is tentatively titled “The Secret Below the Hill.” She raised funds and invested some of her own money in order to hire Israeli actors, a director and cameraman to film several reenactment scenes. Her plans are to intertwine the period scenes with interviews of the few remaining factory workers.

“I’ve been in a fever to capture their stories before it’s too late,” she said.

Few of the original bullet workers are still alive, and one of them passed away last week, said Fairworth.

She said she loved hearing the stories of those who volunteered to work in the underground munitions factory, not knowing they would end up working there for two years until the mission — and the War of Independence — ended.

It’s not the first movie being made about the site, said Shahar Hermelin, director of tourism of JNF USA. The History Channel did a story about underground mysteries and included a piece about the Ayalon Institute. JNF runs the museum and visitor’s center at the Ayalon Institute.

“Everyone needs to know this story,” said Hermelin.

There haven’t been many films made about that period in Israel, said Fairworth.

“It’s a little slice of history,” she said. “Even ‘Exodus’ ends with the actors putting guns on their shoulders. These people who worked here didn’t talk about what they did for the next 30 years.”

Fairworth still needs to raise funds for the second part of the film, which she’s expecting will run about 55 minutes in total. She’s hoping to finish filming in August and enter the movie in festivals by next January.

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