Amos Gitai to direct film on 16th-century Jewish heroine

At Venice Film Festival, director says the Israeli gov’t is working ‘to destroy the very idea of an open society.’

September 4, 2018 17:53
2 minute read.
Filmmaker Amos Gitai

Filmmaker Amos Gitai. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)


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Famed Israeli director Amos Gitai’s next project will be a period drama about Doña Gracia Mendes Nasi, the wealthy Jewish woman who helped smuggle Conversos out of Spain in the 16th century.

According to an exclusive report in Variety, Gitai will be directing Doña Gracia, a project he has been developing for several years along with Marie José Sanselme. The film will begin shooting next year in Europe and Israel, said the report.

Nasi “was among the most formidable figures of the Sephardi world in the 16th century,” according to the Jewish Women’s Archive. Born in Portugal in 1510 to Jewish parents who had fled Spain, she later moved to Antwerp, and then Italy amid the persecution of the Portuguese Inquisition. In Ferrara, Italy, Nasi was able to openly practice Judaism for the first time, and became a well-known benefactor of Jewish life in the city. She also continued her work in aiding “fugitives from the Iberian Peninsula, providing relief to Jewish captives and Jews in distress elsewhere, and supporting rabbinic scholars, hospitals, and synagogues throughout the Ottoman Empire,” said JWA. Later, while living in Constantinople, Nasi organized a boycott of the port of Ancona to protest the city’s persecution of Jews.

Gitai is attending the Venice Film Festival this week where two of his latest works – A Tramway in Jerusalem and A Letter to a Friend in Gaza – are being screened. In an interview this week on the sidelines of the festival, Gitai slammed the current Israeli government and Culture Minister Miri Regev.

“[Regev] wants to censor everything that moves,” the director told “We have a culture minister who wants to constrain and to dominate the industry... We have to be semi-underground to not be confronted by the government pressure. I think it’s even stronger on young filmmakers. It makes some of them move to much more conformist works and I think that’s a pity.”

According to an AFP report on Monday, Gitai told reporters that Israel is heading in the wrong direction and that “the government can destroy the very idea of an open society.” The director slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for welcoming Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to Israel with open arms.

“You see Netanyahu shaking hands with the worst antisemitic leaders in Europe and at the same time he allows shooting unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza,” Gitai said. “He only believes in physical force. This is very un-Jewish so it needs to be criticized.”

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