(Image courtesy of United Artists. Theatrical release film poster by Saul Bass)
When the movie “Exodus” came out in 1960, starring Paul Newman and directed by Otto Preminger, based on the 1958 novel by Leon Uris, it did more to shore up support for Israel and bolster positive feelings towards Zionism than any op-ed, letter-campaign or factual white paper ever could.
While the movie left out key facts and glossed over a number of important historical details, the ability of a major motion picture to impact real politics can’t be challenged.
But it’s more than just the power of film that’s able to enter into the collective social conscience. It was the fact that “Exodus” told a story. Sure, it spun a yarn the way Hollywood often does, with melodrama and a love story sewn in, but at the same time, only Hollywood had then (or has today) the A-list directors, movie stars and studios to make that kind of a film. And a remake of “Exodus” is exactly what’s needed again. (This July, it will be sixty-years ago that the real ship carrying Jewish emigrants left France and was headed for Palestine.)
Like many, I receive a lot of mail everyday to support Israel. On the Internet and social media, I’ve “liked” and “friended” every conceivable pro-Israel organization. And on a grass-roots level, that’s vital.
More recently, at a celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, I was very moved by a documentary “Israel Inside.” It told the amazing discoveries Israel is bringing to the world. It portrayed the people of Israel in the most positive light. Importantly, it was all non-fiction. Yet, while it’s an amazing film, I wonder if it will be seen by enough people? I wonder if they’ll be the ones who really need to see it? I wonder what impact it will make in changing the minds of so many about Israel and who harbor ill feelings towards Zionism.
The technology that Israel and the U.S. share is great. But ultimately, it’s the story that’s carried across the world on all those digits that have the real impact.
The fictional story of Paul Newman’s Ari Ben Canaan and his brilliant, piercing blue eyes backed by major Hollywood studios went on to win an Oscar for Best Original Score and was nominated for Best Cinematography and Supporting Actor. Not having seen it in years, I located it deep in the library of Comcast’s On-Demand vault, dug it out and dropped a few bucks to watch the lengthy epic. Like an aged prizefighter, I saw how it must have been great in its day, but wouldn’t hold up in the ring any longer. Like the actual ship (Built in 1927 for the Baltimore Steam Packet Company and carried freight on the Chesapeake Bay), it was old. The scenes were too plodding and slow to sync with the youth of today.
But when’s the last time you heard about a movie being made by a major studio movie with real Jewish heroes in it? If the director was Mel Gibson—who was slated to tell the story of the Maccabees—that tells you something!
What Israel needs is to find and align with a major studio and Hollywood Director who will make it their mission to tell the story of Israel. The ultimate goal should be more than just one movie, but a remake of “Exodus” would be a great start. Ultimately, it should be a series of epic blockbusters over a 10-year period. They could be stories from the bible. They could be movies that tell the world about modern day Israel.
Israel has the stories. Hollywood has the movie magic. If Israel has a friend in the U.S., stories on film should be one of the most powerful ways to creatively connect and strengthen that bond.
Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at abenovick.com.