The biggest challenge? Shooting in Israel during Sukkot. That’s what producer Phillip Roth said of the filming for Jarhead: Law of Return, the fourth in a series of American war movies (the first, in 2005, was directed by Sam Mendes and starred Jake Gyllenhaal and Jamie Foxx).
The subsequent editions have been leaned to more “straight-to-video” fare, but this time producers are hoping to get the film international attention by placing the action in both Israel and Syria. The cast wrapped production last Thursday and celebrated with a rooftop party at the Lighthouse Hotel in Tel Aviv.
The film follows Ronan, an Israeli fighter pilot who goes down in Syria. The American-born, Jewish character has a prominent US Senator for a father and falls in love with an Israeli woman in an American university. He follows her back to Israel, makes aliyah and becomes an F16 fighter jet pilot.
Devon Sawa, a Canadian-born actor who plays Ronan in the movie, says he loved the script, but took the role because he knew it would bring him to Israel.
“It was on my bucket list and now it’s on my bucket list to come back and spend more time,” Sawa said.
The highlight of his shoot was doing a biking scene in Eilat where Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia were all on his horizon.
“It was probably the best location I ever shot. Montreal was cool, Hawaii was amazing, but this may have taken the cake for best location,” Sawa said.
Sawa said he believes this film is going to be a reboot for the franchise and said while he doesn’t want to steal Israel’s talent, he wishes he could bring the actors he worked with back to Hollywood.
American director Don Michael Paul took the original script and turned it on its head. What was going to be Jarhead: Redemption became Jarhead: Law of Return when Paul decided to re-write the script and make it more contemporary. The focus switched from American troops in Afghanistan to the current war in Syria.
Israeli actress Yael Eitan plays Netta, a tough Mossad agent. Eitan talked about her experience working on the interntional film and the struggles of performing in English. She recalled her favorite moments during production, which were welcoming Puerto Rican actor Amaury Nolasco and American-born Jeff Pierre to the country. Though the camaraderie with the cast was fun and light-hearted, Eitan said her character is serious.
“She just nails it,” Eitan said.
“She’s so smart; she’s so tough. She goes shooting, fighting, driving. She’s bad. I think I like it. I think I am going to do it again. And again. And again.”
But more than just playing a fierce female, Eitan said she was tough on set too, even when conditions were brutal.
“I think the way that I handled being on set – I always thought I would be tired,” she said. “Or it would be hot or cold. Some of the guys were complaining. I said come on, guys. We can do it!”
Pierre, who plays Sergeant Johnson, said his role allowed him to be a tough fighter while also adding comedic relief. Though he didn’t shoot any scenes in Jerusalem himself, he was able to take the ride into town with the rest of the cast, who shot scenes in the Old City and atop the tower of David. He said growing up in a religious Christian household made him appreciate the city.
“I was able to make my own wish and stick it in the wall,” Pierre said. “It was incredible for me to be there and touch the stone. It was by far the best experience of this job.”
Israeli actor Ofer Shechter said acting at the Uvda Air Force Base in Eilat brought him back to a special place from his childhood.
“As a child I used to go to that base with my father. He was flying and I was resting in the pool playing with my brothers. So it was closure for me to come to that base again and not be a real pilot, but play a pilot,” Shechter said.
A unique part of the film will be the shots of never-before-seen Ramon International Airport. The crew was able to shoot scenes there with the help of Jody Sirota, the minis- try director for Eilat tourism. Sirota says the location was chosen out of the director and producer’s love for Israel. She says it was them who hoped to promote Israel and Eilat especially. Both the airport and the film are set to open around the same time, which will be in about three months.
The production comes on the heels of new business in Israel as well. Following the success of the hit Israeli-TV show Fauda, UFO, the Bulgarian production company responsible for Jarhead: Law of Return, has decided to open an office in Israel.
“This is the first project we’ve done with UFO and this movie inspired us to do more with Israeli storylines,” Uri Chartarifsky said. “We also have a series we want to pitch to different Israeli channels.”
The fact that the film was actually shot in Israel is proof enough that the country is rising to the international stage. Film critic Ron Fogel told The Jerusalem Post the last time Israel was a hot spot location for American filming was in the 1980s. Since then, conflict has driven production crews to shoot elsewhere, like Morocco.
Fogel predicts the movie will go straight to Netflix, but producers say it’s unclear in what capacity the movie will be available to viewers. Producers said it will show in select theaters around the world and most certainly will appear in Israeli theaters.