Star­ring Theodor Herzl

The for­mer Lord Mayor of Birm­ing­ham has a dream — to put his­tory’s most fa­mous Zion­ist on the big screen

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features -

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.”

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Herzl at work in his study in Vi­enna. “My grand­chil­dren’s gen­er­a­tion don’t know who he was,” says Ziss­man

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