Israel-Syria spy thriller screens in Tel Aviv before US debut
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Israel-Syria spy thriller screens in Tel Aviv before US debut

'Damascus Cover,' based on the 40-year-old novel by Howard Kaplan, has seen a long road to release

The action-packed independent espionage thriller “Damascus Cover,” based on Howard Kaplan’s 1977 spy novel of the same name, was screened in Tel Aviv last week with director Daniel Berk and Israeli actor Aki Avni in attendance.

Filmed in Moroccoo over an eight-week production period in early 2015, the suspense-filled film stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers, John Hurt, Olivia Thirlby, Jürgen Prochnow, Navid Negahban as well as Israeli actors Aki Avni, Tsahi Halevi and Igal Naor.

The film, which won six awards in its premiere at the 2017 Boston Film Festival, will be released theatrically in the US on July 20, in the United Kingdom on August 3, and according to Berk, possibly on Netflix as well.

At the Tel Aviv screening, Berk and Avni discussed the process of developing the film, which took more than nine years. There was difficulty finding committed investors, more than one cast change, and another delay when Rhys Meyers hurt his hand shortly before leaving for Morocco to film.

The $5 million movie was filmed on location in Israel and Morocco because it was far cheaper, said Berk.

It also helped that Hurt has a home in Morocco and the Israeli actors lived just a short plane ride away.

Olivia Thirlby (left) and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in ‘Damascus Cover’ (Courtesy Damascus Cover)

The suspenseful thriller centers around an Israeli spy, Ari Ben Zion, played by Rhys Meyers, who carries a heavy burden from the death of his child.

Ben Zion is sent to Syria to smuggle a chemical weapons scientist out, but his mission goes awry and he must reach out to another agent named “The Angel.” He soon realizes he is part of a much larger, more complicated operation.

Berk noted the difficulty of shooting a film with Jewish and Israeli roots in Morocco, which does not currently have formal relations with Israel.

The film crew was not allowed to put up any signs pointing to the Jewish or Israeli context of the film — “no Jewish stars,” he said. One Israeli actor was asked by a bystander why Israelis kill all the children in the Arab world.

Berk said the film was actually purchased by Dubai film distributor Gulf Film, the largest film distributor in the Middle East, but was blocked by censors.

The movie, however, conveys a message of peace, as senior Israeli and Syrian officials work together to mitigate the conflict between their respective countries to prevent any unnecessary deaths.

“If people care about their children, then maybe things can change,” said Berk.

Berk emphasized at the screening that Israelis must not give up on the dream of peace, quoting from the movie, “If the Berlin Wall could fall, anything can happen.”

The director discovered Kaplan’s tense spy novel on a friend’s bookshelf in 2005 and emailed Kaplan for the rights to make the screenplay.

Kaplan released a new novel two weeks ago titled “The Spy’s Gamble,” intertwining current events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the history of the conflict. 

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