SIR BERNARD ZISS­MAN

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features -

BACK IN the 19th cen­tury, Theodor Herzl had a crazy dream — that one day the Jewish peo­ple would h a v e t h e i r o wn home­land where they would be safe from an­tisemitism. Against all the odds, that dream be­came a re­al­ity. Now, more than 100 years later, Sir Bernard Ziss­man, busi­ness­man, au­thor and for­mer Lord Mayor of Birm­ing­ham, has what some might think is a sim­i­larly crazyan­dun­re­al­is­ableno­tion—tomake the life of Herzl into a fea­ture film. And as with Herzl, it looks like this project is also go­ing to come to fruition. But un­like his hero, Ziss­man hopes it will hap­pen in his life­time.

This is an un­promis­ing time to make a movie about the founder of mod­ern Zion­ism,whatwith­the­cur­rent­fi­nan­cial cri­sis and Israel’s pub­lic re­la­tions dif­fi­cul­ties, but Ziss­man, look­ing re­laxed in a open-necked shirt over a tomato juice, is adamant that the project will be com­pleted — in fact, he is hope­ful that film- ing could start as soon as this au­tumn.

His ob­ses­sion with Herzl goes back to his own days as a teenager in the Habonim youth move­ment. But his de­sire to makeamovieisamor­ere­cen­to­b­ses­sion — the re­sult of a book he wrote about Herzl.

Ziss­man re­calls: “My book was called Herzl’s Jour­ney. It was a kind of imag­ined con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the two of us. In the first half I go back in time to meet him in the Sacher Ho­tel in Vi­enna and I get to know him in his era and go on his jour­ney with him. In the sec­ond half of the book he trav­els for­ward in time to my era and I show him the re­sults of his vi­sion. The state is founded, the desert is bloom­ing, but the coun­try is at war with its neigh­bours. The book was pub­lished by a Jerusalem pub­lish­ing house and sold around the world — not quite John Gr­isham or J K Rowl­ing, but it did quite well.”

It oc­curred to Ziss­man that there had never been a film made about the life of this vi­sion­ary. He won­dered whether it might be pos­si­ble for him to pull it off him­self. How­ever, there was one prob­lem. Ziss­man had never made a film and had never had any in­volve­ment in the movie busi­ness. He was a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man with a no­table ca­reer in lo­cal pol­i­tics but did not have huge per­sonal wealth to call on. This did not dis­cour­age him, how­ever.

“Start­ing a new ca­reer at my age [he is in his 70s] is in it­self a chal­lenge. But the ba­sic thing about the movie in­dus­try is it’s the same as any other busi­ness. You first of all need to have a prod­uct, then youneedthe­moneyto­fundthe­p­rod­uct, then you need to mar­ket the prod­uct. If you make shirts or if you make ta­bles, it’s the same. The only dif­fer­ence is that in the film in­dus­try, peo­ple do a lot of work on spec. They take very lit­tle money, if at all, when they are de­vel­op­ing it and in­stead they rely on mak­ing their money when the film is made.”

The process is al­ready well un­der way. In the 18 months since he started work, he has spo­ken to a num­ber of se­nior film in­dus­try fig­ures, in­clud­ing the pro­ducer, Lord Put­tnam, raised a de­vel­op­ment­bud­get of £100,000 and has pro­duc­ers, scriptwrit­ers and cast­ing di­rec­tors on re­tain­ers. He also has a di­rec­tor — the Hun­gar­ian Ga­bor Herendi — and the hunt is on for a lead-

Sir Bernard Ziss­man

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