8 Times Hollywood Made Excursions to the ‘Holy Land’ of Israel

‘Rambo III’, ‘You Don’t Mess With the Zohan’, ‘Schindler’s List’ - many Hollywood films have been filmed in Israel. 

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With Israel looking to Bollywood to fight the global BDS (Boycott, Divest & Sanctions) movement by way of incentives, two upcoming projects are filming some parts in this ‘Holy Land’ - Sushant Singh Rajput and Jacqueline Fernandez’ Drive (the first Hindi film to be set in Israel) and Ranbir Kapoor-Alia Bhatt’s Brahmastra helmed by Ayaan Mukerji.

During his visit to India, the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu will also be meeting luminaries of the Hindi film industry, which enjoys heavy patronage in the state. Shalom Bollywood, a marquee event will be held in Mumbai to facilitate this interaction with Bollywood A-listers to lure movie producers to shoot in some of Israel’s picturesque locations.

The discussion of Middle East politics continues to be polarised. Israel is at the heart of a political conflict over land control but there’s much to be said about it’s entrancing landscape. Teeming with well-preserved archaeological treasures, religious sites, the buzzing Tel Aviv beaches, sweeping desert vistas, stark mountains, salty Dead Sea that makes it possible for one to float and Bedouin encampments, the country offers a treasure trove of authentic locations.

The 2014 Gaza War dealt a heavy blow to its attempts to draw American TV productions and tourism. Most of the second season of Homeland was shot in Israel but has now moved its filming to Morocco. WhileTransparent S4 unravels almost entirely in Israel but the crew shot the scenes in Hollywood studios and California deserts.

Here’s looking at how Hollywood navigated this ethical conflict and shot some of its films partially or otherwise in Israel. Most films largely based in Israel, factor in the Israel -Palestine conflict and continue to be politically contentious, while some others have used the locations as stand-ins for other countries.


1. Schindler’s List

Steven Spielberg’s historic magnum opus tops many a list of must-watch Holocaust films. This winner of seven Academy Awards depicts how one German businessman put his life on the line to save over one thousand Jews from Nazi gas chambers. Schindler’s business met with failure before and after the war, but he used its cover to run factories to cheat the Nazis.

The film shined a light on how parts of the Holocaust operated but didn’t delve into the politics. Though the film was extensively filmed in Poland, the actors and the real life survivors were portrayed laying a stone on Oskar Schindler's grave at the burial grounds of the Mount Zion Catholic Cemetery in Jerusalem.


2. Exodus

An epic spectacle, the 1960 film on the founding of the state of Israel and how it resulted in war with its neighbours, was shot in Jerusalem ( such as the Abyssinian Church on Ethiopia Street, where Sal Mineo hides from the British police) and Akko/Acre (where the prison break was shot). Rumour has it that three patients broke out of the mental hospital in the fortress at the site of the prison break sequence, to be seen amongst the escaping prisoners!

Starring Paul Newman, it pocketed many nominations at the Oscars and Golden Globes. Otto Preminger's big-budget adaptation of Leon Uris's best seller reportedly sparked the Zionist Movement in the United States.

A story of the postwar illegal immigration ships bearing a human cargo of Holocaust survivors who tried to break the British blockade of Palestine became a part of the myth of the Israel story.


3. Rambo III

The third part of the action series that catapulted Sylvester Stallone to international fame, Rambo III was shot in Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Eilat, the southern most tip of Israel between Jordan and Egypt), to recreate Afghanistan for a part of the plot that unfurls in the landlocked and mountainous country.


4. The Insider

Starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe, this film was based on Marie Brenner's Vanity Fair article The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Inspired by a true story of Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe), the tobacco executive-turned-whistleblower, it’s a fictionalized account of how he goes live on television to expose the bitter truth of how seven major tobacco companies function.

Some parts were filmed in Umam Al Fahm, northwest of Jenin in the Haifa District of Israel, which is a political flashpoint but also the home of the first Israeli Arab gallery of contemporary art. Michael Mann, the director used the location to replicate Lebanon in this part.


5. A Tale of Love and Darkness

Israel-born Natalie Portman's directorial debut A Tale of Love and Darkness is based on the memoir of the same name in which the writer, Amos Oz maps his own coming of age along with that of the state of Israel.

Shot in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the film is not just Portman’s first as a director and a writer, but it is also the first film in which she speaks in Hebrew. She essays the role of the mother of a boy growing up in Jerusalem in the years before statehood.


6. Miral

The coming of age chronicle of an orphaned Palestinian girl, Miral, who grows up in the wake of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War and finds herself drawn into the conflict stars Frieda Pinto as the protagonist.

Based on a novel by Palestinian writer Rula Jebreal, spanning many decades, it tells the stories of many women and is shot extensively in Israel and Tel Aviv.

Along with Laurie Anderson and Ennio Morricone, AR Rahman has lent music to the film.


7. Jesus Christ Superstar

The film, adapted from an acclaimed rock opera unfolds more like a travelogue of Israel as it transpires in Israel's national parks like Beit She'an, Beit Guvrin Ovdat - a ruined Nabataean city in the Negev desert in southern Israel as well as Nahal Pratzim, down by the Dead Sea - an extraordinarily shaped canyon and the "Flour" cave were carved out of the soft marlstone by water.

The cast largely comprised actors from the broadway show of the same name. The actors Jesus and Judas bagged Golden Globess nominations. An epic production, it examines Christ’s life in the final weeks.


8. You Don’t Mess With The Zohan

The opening scene of this Adam Sandler starrer, based on the real life of Nezi Arbib, a former Israeli soldier and salon owner in California, was filmed on the Tel Aviv beach in front of the Dan Hotel.

Written by Sandler, Judd Apatow and Robert Smigel, the film follows Zohan Dvir, an Israeli counter-terrorist commando who harbours aspirations of becoming a hair stylist in New York and fakes his own death to realise that dream. The soundtrack of the film was composed by Israeli musicians like Infected Mushroom.

Though the film was criticised for representing some of the country's worst stereotypes, it roared at the box office.

With inputs from Variety.

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Topics:  Israel   Afghanistan   Middle East 

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