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Golden opportunity
By HANNAH BROWN
21/01/2013
For producer Robert M. Bleiweiss, it was a dream come true to make "The Golden Pomegranate," an epic story of four generations of Yemenite Jews in Israel.
 
‘Who would have thought that an Askhenazi guy from The Bronx would make a movie about the Yemenite experience in Israel?” says Robert (Bobby) M. Bleiweiss, the producer and co-screenwriter of the recently released film, The Golden Pomegranate.

This epic story of generations of Yemenite Jews, both in the old country and in Israel, has brought Bleiweiss, a writer, teacher and businessman, into the Israeli filmmaking community. And for Bleiweiss, a soft-spoken man who wears a kippah, sits in his Mevasseret Zion office in a home filled with photos of his children and grandchildren, the transition to filmmaking has brought new challenges.

One of the first of these involved his collaboration with Dvora Waysman, author of the novel The Pomegranate Pendant, on which the book was based.

“Dvora was approached by Feldheim Publishers to write a book about Yemenites,” says Bleiweiss. She came back with this saga, after doing a great deal of research into Yemenite Jewish history and traditions.

But show business has its own set of conventions, and Bleiweiss, who adapted the novel with a great deal of feeling for his source material, had to make cuts in the multi-character storyline.

“It was hard for Dvora,” admits Bleiweiss. “But I told her, ‘If people have read the book, the worst thing that will happen is that they’ll leave the theater saying that the book was better.’”

The film uses the framing device of having a singer of Yemenite descent (Noa, aka Achinoam Nini) in a rehearsal at an amphitheater who is approached by someone who knew her grandmother. The film then goes back in time to tell the story of Mazal, a Jewish child-bride from Yemen, who moves to Jerusalem from Yemen in the late 19th century. She becomes the mother of two and is widowed at a young age, then supports her family through her skills as a jeweler in gold and silver. This was not a traditional occupation for a woman at this time, and she fights prejudice in order to make a living.

The movie continues to tell the story of Mazal and her family, through the turbulent decades that preceded the establishment of the state and on to the present day. In the end, the film tells the story of four generations of Yemenite goldsmiths at against the backdrop of Israeli history.

In addition to the cameo by Noa, the film features a cast of distinguished Israeli actors, including Galit Giat, Mati Seri, Michael Moshonov and Sharon Tal.

“We have a wonderful cast, amazing actors,” says Bleiweiss.

Asked why they made the film in English, Bleiweiss admits: “That was the single hardest decision we had to make. We knew it would be an expensive production. There were 48 speaking parts and 620 extras. Most of the costumes were made-to-order.”

After consulting with various advisors, Bleiweiss was told, “‘If you make it in Hebrew, there’s no way you’ll make your money back.’ So we made it in English. I still wonder if that was the right decision. Sometimes, when I meet Israelis, the first thing they say is, ‘Why did you make the movie in English?’ Israelis take it as an affront.”

But Bleiweiss and director and co-screenwriter Dan Turgeman are gambling that Israelis will overcome their prejudice against English, and that the film will also speak to an international audience.

“It’s an Israeli movie and an international movie,” says Bleiweiss.

He is currently at work on a film, a musical drama that was inspired by his family life. Called Daniel and set to star Mati Seri, it tells the story of a young ultra-Orthodox yeshiva teacher whose father is killed in a terrorist attack. The teacher bonds with his secular grandfather on the course of a hike. But this time around, it will be a smaller production, and it will be in Hebrew.

The film is a semi-autobiographical story for Bleiweiss, who describes himself as a “Reservadox Jew – a combination of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform,” and whose son is ultra-Orthodox.

Bleiweiss says he was, “brought back to Judaism” relatively late in life, and “when you are brought back to Judaism, you are brought back to Israel.”
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