Rare and fortunate is the movie producer who gets a call from Nicole Kidman asking whether he's got room for her in his latest project. Such a call, however, is exactly what Rabbi Marvin Hier says he received from Kidman after speaking about his next documentary with the Moulin Rouge star at a benefit dinner for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in New York City earlier this year.
A two-time Academy Award winner for his work producing the documentaries Genocide and The Long Way Home, Hier did indeed find a place for her in his latest project, with Kidman narrating a biography of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal.
The film will have its world premiere Sunday evening in Jerusalem. Kidman represents the latest A-list recruit for Hier, the director and founder of the Wiesenthal Center and its film division, Moriah Films.
Although Kidman, the Oscar-winning Cold Mountain star, is already at work in London on her next project, Wiesenthal's daughter and other family members will be in attendance at the film's debut screening, Hier said. The completed film will arrive a little more than a year after its subject's death in Vienna at age 96.
Born in 1908 in what is now the Ukraine, Wiesenthal endured a death march and incarceration in several concentration camps during World War II before transforming himself into the famed captor of hundreds of Nazis.
An architect by training, Wiesenthal abandoned his pre-war profession to pursue a new post-war calling, remaining in Austria for the remainder of his career. Among his best-known triumphs, Wiesenthal would play a key role in the search for Final Solution supervisor Adolf Eichmann, whose 1961 capture in Argentina and subsequent trial in Jerusalem proved a watershed moment in worldwide awareness of the Holocaust.
"People now assume because of Holocaust and Schindler's List that there was always an interest [in the genocide]," Hier said. "But it was because of Simon Wiesenthal's tenacity that people later commemorated it ... He was the address from May 9, 1945, until the time when others decided to shed some light on this terribly dark period of human history."
Calling Wiesenthal the "attorney general" of the Holocaust, Hier said he and long-time professional collaborator Richard Trank had struggled to condense their subject's life into a 90-minute film. Their work on the documentary, entitled I Have Never Forgotten You, ran into unexpected delays as a result of the summer's war between Israel and Hizbullah, with Israeli film and historical archives "understandably" slower than usual in providing material for the film.
Interviewed barely more than a week before the film's premiere, both men discussed last-minute work that remained to be done on the documentary, as well as technical arrangements for the premiere. But Hier was clearly buoyed by Kidman's contribution to the film, which follows narration work on other Moriah documentaries by notables such as Elizabeth Taylor, Orson Welles, Morgan Freeman and Michael Douglas.
Kidman, who made headlines in her native Australia in the summer by signing a Hollywood petition in support of Israel's fight against Hizbullah, will undoubtedly raise the profile of I Have Never Forgotten You - a clear priority for Hier. "Traditional ways of educating people" about the Holocaust and Jewish history are no longer working, Hier said. "We either adapt or we lose them."
The film's Succot premiere in Israel is part of a now-familiar marketing routine designed to build interest in Moriah's most recent films among visitors from abroad. Hier plans to arrange festival screenings and a movie theater release for I Have Never Forgotten You during the coming months, and says he hopes Kidman will attend a screening of the film in New York or Los Angeles.
Even if she's unavailable, however, he has reason to be hopeful about the success of the film. Moriah, which on average produces one film a year, has never made a documentary that has not appeared on television, Hier said.
A deal signed three months ago ensures that a package of Jewish-themed documentaries will air on television in the United States, Canada, Japan, Mexico, France and the Benelux countries in the near future, with a potential audience of millions of viewers.