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Beyond ‘Homeland’ and ‘In Treatment': Israeli Topics Ripe for American Adaptations (Guest Blog)

Aviva Kempner recommends reworking ”Gett, the Trial of Vivian Amsalem“ and documentary ”Above and Beyond“ for U.S. audiences

Even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes news with his sectarian speech to Congress, the better drama about Israeli society and military history can be found in two recently released films. Both movies are ideal candidates for being adapted into dramatic films in the States.

Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz’s “Gett, The Trial of Vivian Amsalem,” offers a riveting portrayal of an Orthodox Jewish woman’s struggle to obtain a gett, a religious divorce required by Orthodox Jewry, from her clearly estranged husband. The drama features the disengaged couple returning time and time again over the years to appear in front of three Orthodox rabbis in a very claustrophobic courtroom setting. The movie demonstrates how the husband holds all the power to allow the divorce and the rabbis to grant it in this Orthodox world that can place a wife in a horrible state of matrimonial limbo.

Playing in limited release, “Gett” was nominated for a Golden Globe and won for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor at the Awards of the Israeli Film Academy. Elkabetz pulls off not only co-writing and co-directing the film, but plays the wronged wife to perfection, swaying from disbelief to hatred as the agony of her returning to court continues.

Least you think it’s only an Israeli phenomenon, there are Orthodox women in the United States who have been denied divorces in American Rabbinical courts, preventing them from moving on with their lives and ever remarrying. Referred to as “chained women,” there is a movement in the States to embarrass these stubborn husbands into releasing their separated spouses. This American variety of these wives being held hostage by their dogged husbands would make for a great American drama.

“Above and Beyond,” a documentary directed by Roberta Grossman and produced by Nancy Spielberg (sister of Steven Spielberg), would make for a swashbuckling adaptation into an American feature. It’s the inspiring story of the returning World War II American soldiers, mostly Jewish, who secretly helped the newly established Israel develop an air force to fight during the War of Independence in 1948. Operating as volunteers and risking losing their U.S. citizenship, they were an unusual band of soldiers who use chutzpah and cunning to secure planes, fight hostile Arab countries and contribute to the war effort. It is now in limited theatrical and festival release.

Spielberg just showed her film at the Washington Jewish Film Festival, where it won the audience award. The energetic producer explained how she was compelled to make this film when she read an obituary about the heroism of one of the fighters. Spielberg chose Grossman to direct after seeing her documentary “Blessed Is the Match” about Hannah Senesh, the young Jewish resistance fighter during World War II. Grossman agreed to do the film because, she said, “I am a sucker for 20th-century Jewish history.” Some of the footage of the fighting came from the Steven Spielberg Archives, but, the producer joked, there was “no family discount.”

The film depicts the volunteers clandestinely building the air force under the risk of FBI discovery and hopscotching from Panama to Italy to Czechoslovakia. These volunteers, some facing anti-Semitism in America, wanted to help Israel after the Holocaust and build a Jewish state. Their stories are ripe with guile, humor and romantic adventures. All these elements would make a great Hollywood movie.

So go to the movie theaters and see how more Israeli stories will certainly inspire dramatic adaptations, like “Homeland” and “In Treatment,” here in America in the future.

Aviva Kempner is the co-director with Ben West (Cheyenne) of "Imagining the Indian: The Fight Against Native American Mascoting" documentary. Jessie Atkin is the communications coordinator for the documentary.

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