Tiny Portuguese Jewish community makes a $1.2 million movie about its history

‘Sefarad’ chronicles centuries of Jewish life in Porto, Portugal; film financed by vetting applications of people claiming citizenship as descendants of Sephardic Jews

Cnaan Liphshiz is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Portuguese actor Rodrigo Santos, center, portrays Artur Carlos de Barros Basto in the filming of "Sefarad" in 2018 in Porto, Portugal. (Courtesy/JTA)
Portuguese actor Rodrigo Santos, center, portrays Artur Carlos de Barros Basto in the filming of "Sefarad" in 2018 in Porto, Portugal. (Courtesy/JTA)

JTA — The tiny Jewish community of Porto, Portugal, made a feature film about its history that is likely the costliest production by any European Jewish community.

The 90-minute film, titled “Sefarad,” covers centuries of Jewish history in Portugal, alternating between the ages and following individual stories of real historical figures spanning the 15th century to community leaders in modern times.

The film, which had a budget of more than $1.2 million, was released Friday on Amazon Prime and is scheduled for a December 15 release on iTunes.

The opening scene features dozens of extras in medieval costumes and period drama filming techniques that are rarely seen in promotional videos of small Jewish communities.

The film focuses on Artur Carlos de Barros Basto, an army captain who in the 1920s helped promote Jewish life in Porto and was subsequently falsely accused of sexual crimes and dismissed from the military.

A former leading member of the community told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on condition of anonymity that the film’s budget came from revenues earned by vetting the applications of hundreds of people claiming to be descendants of Sephardic Jews.

In 2015, Portugal and Spain passed law entitling such descendants to become citizens as atonement for past persecution. Jewish communities vet the applications. Porto’s says it has 400 members.

A communications specialist working for the community said the production is “privately funded.” Michael Rothwell, a spokesman for the community, declined to speak on the subject with JTA.

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