The famous Jewish Hollywood moguls of old, Sam Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, and Cecil B. DeMille, knew how to tell a good story, but most of the time the story wasn’t very Jewish.
Even today, it’s hard to find a Jewish hero in a Hollywood movie or TV series. Jewish actors abound, but you won’t find many strong Jewish characters, certainly not characters who are ready to fight for the State of Israel.
Enter Yehezkel Laing. This American-born Jerusalem resident wants to bring the saga of the Jewish people to the screen and is currently directing and producing a dramatic series, “Iron Sky,” that tells the story of brave Jewish families in the Soviet Union. The Jewish Press recently spoke with him.
The Jewish Press: How would you describe “Iron Sky”?
Laing: In 1917, communist revolutionaries overthrew Russia’s czarist government and instituted a totalitarian regime. From that point on, the three million Jews living in Russia were forbidden to publicly practice Judaism. Anyone teaching it was condemned as an “enemy of the state,” arrested by the KGB, interrogated, tortured, and then sent to a Siberian work camp or murdered.
“Iron Sky” is the incredible story of a handful of very brave Jews who practiced and taught Judaism in the USSR in secret despite enormous danger and constant persecution. Incredibly, this amazing story has never yet been made into a film.
Why this story of Jewish heroism and not a hundred others?
I hope to get to them all. I’ve always loved stories of Jewish bravery, especially under very difficult conditions. Tales of Jews who guarded the mitzvos, even when it seemed impossible, I’ve always found very inspiring. In the past few years, I read a number of gripping books about observant Jews in the Soviet Union, and they served as the inspiration for this project.
What makes this story so special?
You have to understand that the Soviet campaign against Judaism was massive and brutal. Out of every 1,000 Jews, perhaps only one remained Shabbos-observant. This took incredible courage and commitment.
What led you to this ambitious endeavor?
My goal in life is to be a pioneer for positive Jewish media, and I have spent the past two years on this project, researching the history of Jews under Stalin, writing the script, building a production team, and filming. The series is being made in conjunction with the Torat Hayim Film School – an award-winning Jewish Film School located in Yad Binyamin, Israel.
Where and when will it be available for viewing?
“Iron Sky” is initially intended to be broadcast as a web-based dramatic series. It will consist of some 12 episodes of five minutes each. One episode will be broadcast every week for a period of three months on three different Israel-based websites: the secular Channel 20, the dati-leumi Arutz Sheva; and the charedi Kikar HaShabbat.
We estimate the series has the ability to reach over 250,000 people. We also plan to include subtitles and broadcast to the English-speaking public worldwide. We hope to hit home screens before Pesach.
Raising the necessary money for film projects is always a problem. What is your budget for the production?
Five minutes of video costs us $5,000 to produce, so the cost for the entire project is $60,000. Since we have the potential to reach many people and bring them closer to Torah, this a solid kiruv investment.
What’s the source of your funding?
A number of private investors have helped us raise sufficient funding for all the pre-production and shooting. All we need now is $15,000 for editing and post-production, and it’s ready for broadcast. I believe the time has come for the Jewish People to tell our own story. As they say, the media is the message. Together with people who understand the power of film, we will use this most influential tool to connect Jews to Judaism and to a proud and positive Jewish identity.
Right now, we are running an “Iron Sky” television series crowdfunding campaign on Jewcer. People can view the trailer there.