It all started on the evening of April 18, 2017, the day that the date of the next British General Election was announced. I was attending a Balfour Project meeting in the House of Lords. After the meeting a dinner was laid on for invited guests, some of whom were MPs, who because of the announcement could not attend the dinner: I was honoured to be included instead.
During the meal we discussed how to spread the message of the Balfour Project more widely. The project already had a short history film, which was crammed full of historical facts, but what I impulsively suggested was a film that would be more mainstream and accessible. I had absolutely no background in film making and no clue how to achieve such a thing. Looking back, I was naïve…but it worked.
I left the meeting full of enthusiasm, but that was dampened when I approached producers I knew of and discovered that such a project would cost between £50,000 and £100,000. I am not a fund-raiser either. So why me? Well, my mother was a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia, so a ‘Holocaust Survivor’ as many of her family perished. She was lucky in that, although she lost everything, her mother and father also managed to come to the UK. She very soon felt ashamed of what Jews were doing in ‘her name’ in Palestine.
For many years I had the idea of going to Palestine for three months (yes, exactly that) to experience the situation for myself. In 2009 that dream had come true via EAPPI (the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel), with whom I spent three months as part of an international team covering Hebron and the South Hebron Hills. That was a life-changing experience and I never looked back. In fact I jumped head-long into human rights activism, took on a variety of roles and joined the Balfour Project.
At the moment that I was about to admit defeat and confess that the film was an impossibility, I met Martin Buckley who became the film’s director. I told him about my aim and he told me that he had been a BBC producer among other things and was now a lecturer in journalism and would consider taking on the film as a summer project. A friend gave us £5,000, Martin found a student called Alex Wilks who would be our cameraman and I booked the location shoot and interviews. We spent ten days in early July, 2017, shooting the film in Israel and Palestine, for less than £5000. We were fortunate that some interviews led to others and that the office of the renowned wall-graffito artist Banksy gave us permission to film the manager of his ‘Walled Off Hotel’ in Bethlehem.
We ended up with so much material that it became a headache deciding what to include and what to leave out. We had had the fond idea of completing the film in time for the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration that November, and we did manage a very rough cut, but it proved to be a rather larger project than any of us has envisioned. Interpal gave us a further £10,000 and we received a few other smaller donations including some money via an Israeli lawyer that was apparently owing to me because of my grand-father — rather ironic really.
That summer of 2017 I gained a small idea of what a film producer does. Martin had been used to having a production team working with him and had to make do with me. So I had some very fast learning to do. I can tell you that copyright law is an absolute minefield. I was also fund-raiser, treasurer, secretary, co-ordinator, front ‘man’, negotiator, bookings, etc., although Martin did find some temporary student help at times. It was a huge challenge for the three of us, with Alex taking on the role of editor.
We managed a screening of a very rough version in London, very close to the Balfour Centenary. The second screening was at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. Unfortunately that led to a near riot as a well-known Zionist activist led a charge of his supporters inside the room with Israeli flags and loud songs in Hebrew. We had to be escorted from the building for our safety. Since then the film has had many improvements and updates including visuals, sound, subtitles and editing. We have screened it many times all around the UK as well as within Israel and Palestine (quietly) and even as part of the Boston Palestine Film Festival. We were short-listed for another film festival, but that was postponed because of the Coronavirus so it seemed a good time to release the film and make it as widely available as possible.
The film is free to view from the website as the copyright permissions we obtained were for an educational, not-for-profit production. The total cost of the film including the music score, new website and publicity, etc. has been around £20,000, which is miraculous in the circumstances. Since the release of the film, just a week ago, there have been 4,500 visits to our website.
It goes without saying that none of this would have possible been possible without Martin and Alex. What they have achieved is remarkable. I am very proud to be producer of such a film.