Starring Theodor Herzl
The former Lord Mayor of Birmingham has a dream — to put history’s most famous Zionist on the big screen
ing man. He says that Adrian Broudie, of The Pianist fame, loved the script but ultimately said no because he was reluctant to be typecast in Jewish roles. But Zissman is confident that he will find his star. “It won’t be Tom Hanks or Colin Firthbutwe’relookingforsomeonewho is talented and on the way up,” he says.
He is also optimistic about funding. The budget has been estimated at $6 million. He has secured a subsidy of $2 million from the government in Hungary, where the film will be shot, which leaves $4 million to be raised from private investors.
“We’re going to ask wealthy people, probably Jewish, who are supportive of the concept. When people say: ‘I don’t invest in films’, I say to them: “It’s an investment into the story of Zionism told in a way that is made for a wider audience and not just a Jewish one’. If we can’t take $4 million worldwide, there’s a problem somewhere, so investors should at least get their money back. Whether we make a big profit depends howgoodthemovieisandwhatthecritics say about it.”
He emphasises that the film will not be overtly political. In fact, he sees it as something of a love story, not just about Herzl’s passion for Zionism and the Jewish people, but also the painful choice he had to make between the two women in his life.
And he does not think that Israel’s unpopularity will stop the film being made. “This is not about the IsraelP a l e s t i ne conflict — that would have been f a r more difficult to make. We asked our American casting director whether there would be resistance among actors, and he said, absolutely not.”
Zissman is certainly no stranger to getting things done. He presided over the family retail business for many years whilehebecameprominentinlocalgovernment with the Conservatives, culminating in his election as Lord Mayor of Birmingham in 1990. He was also the head of an NHS Trust, and headed the team which developed the second city’s International Convention Centre and Symphony Hall.
But why is he so determined to bring this particular project to fruition? “Because Israel came out of a vision of Herzl’s and that should be marked. My grandchildren’s generation don’t know who he was. They think Israel wastheresultof theHolocaust;that it was some kind of consolation prize for the Jewish people. The Holocaust certainly hastened the process but the real reason why Israel is here now is Herzl.”
He adds: “If people can understand how the dream of a Jewish national home came about and why, then that would be a very good thing. In a way, although on a much smaller scale, I have the same ambition as he did, although I’m not founding a country, I’m just trying to get a movie made.”
Herzl at work in his study in Vienna. “My grandchildren’s generation don’t know who he was,” says Zissman