'The perfect underdog tale'

‘No sugarcoating’ as first movie on ’67 battle for Jerusalem takes shape

‘We’re not making this for the Fox News crowd,’ say US producers. But ‘there’s a great story here, and we’re hoping this can start a more informed dialogue’

New Hollywood film intends to focus on individuals' reactions during the Six Day War (GPO)
New Hollywood film intends to focus on individuals' reactions during the Six Day War (GPO)

NEW YORK — They weren’t yet born, but Joseph Schick and Jacob Septimus remember 1967.

“It was a story I grew up with, and reading about it after being shocked about the Holocaust, it was like the perfect underdog tale” says Septimus, a director, producer and former advertising creative director working to get a new feature film, “Jerusalem ’67,” off the ground.

Joseph Schick, a lawyer and sportswriter now launching a producing career, is more blunt. “This is a story that has never been shown on film. Even the documentary footage is more about the south – everyone thought the action was going to be in Egypt. Our film will be about the people and the city of Jerusalem.”

The Six Day War changed the perception of Israel throughout the world. Schick describes a sense of inevitable doom many outsiders had when Egypt, Jordan and Syria allied themselves to drive the Jewish state into the sea. The euphoria that followed what Septimus calls the “ultimate come-from-behind” has evaporated in many corners with today’s current, indirectly related conflict.

“Jerusalem ’67” hopes to help people who toss out phrases like “divided city” and “Green Line” better understand what actually occurred during the short conflict. However, straight hasbara is not what the team is looking to accomplish.

Right now there’s too much shortform dialogue. People just say ’67 borders’ without even knowing what that means

“I don’t have any interest in making a propaganda film,” Septimus says. “The Yom Kippur War and Lebanon, and also the Entebbe Raid have been covered exhaustively. When you look back at the documents from the time, people were asking ‘who will make the Hollywood movie about this?’ and it never happened. It is similar to how in America no one touched Vietnam for years. People were afraid to touch it because of the legacy. But the legacy is the legacy – the story is still the story. Telling the story may make the legacy seem a little clearer.”

Joseph Schick (left) and Jacob Septimus (right)
Joseph Schick (left) and Jacob Septimus (courtesy)

The producers have optioned Abraham Rabinovich’s book “The Battle For Jerusalem,” as well as some articles he wrote for the Jerusalem Post, and are basing their story on composite characters drawn from those sources. They’ve attached Mikael Salomon as director.

Salomon is what you would call a journeyman filmmaker. The Danish (and half-Jewish) director began as a cinematographer working on films for James Cameron (“The Abyss”), Steven Spielberg (“Always”) and Ron Howard (“Far and Away.”) More recently recently he has directed television programming like “Rome,” “The Company” and the remake of “The Andromeda Strain.” Most relevant to “Jerusalem ’67” is his work on the award-winning “Band of Brothers.”

The cast will be a mix of Hollywood talent and Israeli actors, and also take advantage of the new crop of Israeli production crews sharpening their teeth on high profile shows like NBC’s “Dig,” F/X’s “Tyrant” and Natalie Portman’s directorial debut “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” Since shooting will not begin until next spring, casting has yet to be locked down, though of considerable interest will be the strong female lead character.

Despite a few “smoky room” sequences with historical figures (Uzi Narkiss and Moshe Dayan atop Mount Scopus discussing Titus’ pledge to destroy the city will make an appearance, as will Rabbi Goren blowing his shofar) the film is very much told from the point of view of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. We’ll see the battle through the eyes of an ambulance driver/single mother and her love interest called up to the Jerusalem Brigade.

“These were people that when trouble broke walked to the base – they weren’t deployed overseas,” Schick points out. The backyard nature of the conflict calls to Schick’s mind a friend he had who went to Jenin in 2002. “He fought a brutal battle, saw many of his comrades killed or wounded, and was back at work two days later. Where else does that happen but Israel?”

Mikael Salomon (center) with Dylan McDermott on set for his forthcoming film "Freezer."
Mikael Salomon (center) with Dylan McDermott on set for his forthcoming film ‘Freezer.’ (courtesy)

Shick and Septimus refute the notion that a project with even a whiff of Zionist sentiment will have trouble in the marketplace.

“The ‘elites’ in New York and Los Angeles consider Israel a controversial topic, but most of the rest of America supports Israel. Middle America who goes to church and doesn’t even know any Jews, they like Israel. Justin Timberlake was just as the Wall. Jay Leno was there. Claire Danes wrote a piece for the New York Times Magazine. The Rolling Stones are in town. Sure, there’s BDS, and Danny Glover doesn’t like Israel and neither does Mel Gibson – I guess the next ‘Lethal Weapon’ won’t shoot there.”

“It’s not a propaganda piece and it’s not sugarcoated,” Septimus adds, “I am firmly on the Left. We’re not making this for the Fox News crowd. There’s a great story here loaded with symbolism and meaning for today. Right now there’s too much shortform dialogue. People just say ’67 borders’ without even knowing what that means — we’re hoping this can restart a greater, and more informed dialogue.”

After a beat, however, both filmmakers facing a long road to production, festivals and distribution agree that “a little controversy isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

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