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BY GUEST: ARNON SHORR
About the Production
Several years ago, filmmaker Arnon Shorr was introduced to a history book with an eye-catching title: “Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean”. The subject-matter, Jewish piracy in the wake of the Inquisition, fascinated Arnon, who is a filmmaker in Los Angeles. “The way the book presents it, Jewish pirates were motivated not just by the usual pirate motivations. They sailed the seas when Spain was the maritime superpower, so Spanish ships, with the Spanish gold fleet in particular, were their primary target. These Jews had fled Spain – they were victims of the Inquisition – so there’s a sense of justice that seeps into their narrative in a way that simply doesn’t exist in typical pirate stories.” It was a long time before Arnon seriously considered actually making a Jewish pirate film. In September, 2016, Arnon wanted to develop a short film project for the end of the year. He had just attended a presentation by Amir Giveon, the founder of Jewcer.org, and was inspired to give the crowdfunding platform a try. The idea for “The Pirate Captain Toledano” hit Arnon all at once. “It was a Friday,” Arnon says, “and I was working on another project, when the whole story, cut out of whole cloth, occurred to me. I set my work down, outlined the tale of a refugee stowaway and the pirate captain who finds him, and set the outline aside, determined to get back to work. But I couldn’t work. The story called me back. I pushed off some deadlines and set to writing the short script, working off of my hasty outline. In less than an hour, the first draft was written, and it’s actually very similar to the finished film.”
The story was great, but Arnon was crestfallen. He had just written a period piece that takes place on a tall ship. How could he possibly pull that off without the resources of a major Hollywood production? He was tempted to set the script aside, to try writing something else, something less ambitious. But Arnon couldn’t let the project go. “I had to know what it would cost. I figured that if I knew how expensive this film would be to make, I’d give up on it and move on to something more achievable.” So he started contacting maritime museums on the California coast to inquire about the cost of shooting on tall ships. One of his first calls was to The Ocean Institute in Dana Point, California. They have two beautiful replica tall ships that have been used for films from The Power Rangers to Amistad. The folks at The Ocean Institute were very nice, and quoted a price that would have been reasonable to a major Hollywood feature… but far too big for a scrappy little short film. Even so, Arnon wasn’t ready to accept defeat. He asked the Ocean Institute if they knew anyone else who had a tall ship with a less expensive day-rate. And he sent them the script to read. The folks at The Ocean Institute loved the script! They offered Arnon a HUGE discount, and even suggested that they’d get more deeply involved with promoting the crowdfunding campaign and screening the film. In an instant, the production had hope! But this was still going to be an expensive production. In order to pull it off, Arnon had to raise $18,000. For this, he turned to Jewcer.org, a crowdfunding platform that offers nonprofit status to campaigns that raise money for Jewish-themed projects. Arnon ran a resoundingly successful 6-week campaign on Jewcer.org, and gathered a passionate cast and crew for the film’s production. At last, over the course of a long and thrilling night in December, “The Pirate Captain Toledano” came to life.
Fun Facts & Stories from Behind the Scenes
The Royal French Privateers of Clan Darksail™ (www.ClanDarksail.com) Clan Darksail provided actors, stunt men, props, costuming and more to The Pirate Captain Toledano. Founded in 1998, Darksail is one of the oldest and largest troupes of acting pirates in the Southwest US. Members of Darksail have appeared in Conquest for the History Channel, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Master & Commander: Far Side of the World, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, Assassin’s Creed: The Devil’s Spear and much much more. They perform all over at Renaissance and Pirate Festivals, and are available for hire. In their enthusiasm for this project, they brought their own cannon to set.
Stephen DeCordova’s Kiddush Cup
There’s a narrative beat in “The Pirate Captain Toledano” that revolves around the discovery of a silver kiddush cup among the Stowaway’s belongings. “When I brought in our actor, Stephen DeCordova, to read for the role of The Captain, he brought a small kiddush cup with him. I figured he simply brought the prop from home so he’d have something to work with during the reading of the scene,” says Arnon. As it turns out, the cup had some history. Stephen was born in the USA, but comes from a Jamaican Jewish family. His mother was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and descends from Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition and came to the new world in the 16th century. The cup belonged to Stephen’s grandfather in Jamaica, and has been in the family for more generations than anyone can remember. It’s an authentic piece of Judaica from the heart of the Caribbean. “It was as if Stephen had reached into my script and pulled the prop right out of the pages. I was honored that Stephen even offered to let us use the cup in the film!” (Don’t worry – for the moment when the cup clatters across the deck of the ship, the art department found a “stunt double” so as not to harm the precious antique!)
The Ancient Ladino Folk Song
During the Editing, Arnon used recordings of Ladino folk songs as temp music. One of the recordings, “Camini por Altas Torres”, as composed by David Ludwig and performed by Choral Arts Philadelphia, felt particularly appropriate for the tone of the film. Out of curiosity, Arnon looked up the translation of the song, and found that the first verse says “I walked among high towers, I sailed through storms..” Sailed through storms? High towers like the masts of a tall ship? This was too perfect. Arnon got in touch with David Ludwig to ask for permission to use the piece. Ludwig, who is a notable composer, and who has composed for films before, responded enthusiastically. “Camini por Altas Torres” now plays prominently and sets the tone at the start of the film.
News and Reviews
http://jewcy.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/ahoy-jewish-pirate-movie “Most pirate stories are tired these days… and Jews breathe new life into a genre that never seems to explore new themes”.
http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/jewish-pirates-make-pirates-more-interesting/2016/11/09/ “Shorr’s enthusiasm for “The Pirate Captain Toledano” is contagious”.
http://www.danapointtimes.com/hands-set-filmmaker-uses-ocean-institute-tall-ships-backdrop-short-film/ “There’s another reason to tell this story, if the anti-Semitics are using it to inspire the hatred, the good guys need to start telling this story and reclaiming it”. http://www.frontpagemag.com/point/264625/jewish-pirates-caribbean-daniel-greenfield “A fascinating exploration of how much of history is lost when legend becomes cliche”.
http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/reclaiming-a-jewish-narrative-in-the-face-of-anti-semitism/ “The very fact that the phrase “Jewish pirate” catches people by surprise is an indicator that this is a type of character that we need to see. It’s a reminder that Jews can share a cultural heritage with more than just Eastern Europe. It’s a reminder that a stereotype (whether it’s positive or negative) is still a stereotype”. http://www.thejewishadvocate.com/news/2017-01-20/Arts/Mass_man_makes_Jewish_pirate_movie.html “I like depicting Jewish characters outside the Hollywood norm…I thought pirates were as far away from the typical trope as you could get”.
http://jewishtimes.com/57779/hebrews-on-the-high-seas/news/ “People are nervous about this idea of connecting Jews and piracy, but what we are afraid of is the anti-Semitic usurpation of this narrative, so we need to make it our own.” http://maxitmagazine.com/2016/11/16/groundbreaking-short-film-about-jewish-pirates/ “It’s astonishing,” says Shorr, “That Jewish pirates are so profoundly absent from popular pirate mythology. Their history is so vibrant, their characters are so rich, and their stories are so full of human drama.
My goal is primarily entertainment, not social activism. I’m an entertainer first. But I can’t wriggle free from the sense that as an entertainer, I still bear a responsibility to serve the people I entertain, to make them better for having been entertained. So I write a script, I raise some money, and I make a film about Jewish pirates. What more can I do?
Cast & Crew Bios
Arnon Shorr, Director: Arnon is an Israeli/American modern-Orthodox Jewish filmmaker who lives and works in Los Angeles. His award-winning shorts and features have screened in festivals across the country.
His work includes award-winning feature films, dozens of shorts, and a Jewish comedy web-series that was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. He is an Israeli/American with a blended heritage of European and North African ancestry, including family that was expelled from Portugal – like his characters in this film – by the Inquisition in the late 15th century.
In addition to making films, Arnon has taught film history, production and post-production courses at several high schools and colleges. He founded the SunDeis Film Festival at Brandeis University in 2004 with Adam Irving (director of last year’s hit documentary, “Off the Rails.”) After he graduated, Arnon saw the festival mantle picked up by Scott Feinberg (now the Hollywood Reporter’s awards season expert).
Arnon is an active storyteller, not an observer of moments. Whether it’s dark or comedic, he thinks the audience must feel a part of the scene, embraced by the story. He thinks movies need to transport us, even if it’s just to the house next door. Where would you like to go? Let him take you.
For more about Arnon, his trademark fedora, vintagewear, and goatee, as well as his recent work, check out these links:
Stephen DeCordova, “The Pirate Captain Toledano” - Stephen became a professional actor in New York at the age of 55, before moving to Los Angeles to pursue his film and TV career. Network TV guest appearances have included: Veep, Frasier, Arrested Development, House MD, General Hospital, Las Vegas, The Bold and the Beautiful, Southland and many others. Stephen first worked with Arnon Shorr as a series regular on Mad Mentsch, the Jewbellish web series, which Arnon directed and produced. He lives in the Hollywood Hills with his wife, Debra, and two Cornish Rex cats.
Dan Shakad, The Stowaway – Dan is a graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts where he studied at The Lee Strasberg Film/Theater Inst
itute and at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Relevant theater credits: Boston’s UnderGround Railway Theater’s production of Naomi Wallace’s The Fever Chart, directed by Elena Araoz at the Central Square Theatre (about Israeli-Palestinian relations). His parents moved to Boston in 1974. They moved to the US to pursue the American Dream. Dan is first-generation American and identifies as Israeli-American. Growing up, he spoke both Hebrew and English at home. All four of his grandparents are Holocaust survivors.
Will Beinbrink, The Quartermaster – Will is an American actor whose most recently been recurring on USA Networks Queen of the
South. Also recent films include Free State of Jones with Matthew McConnaghey, I Saw the Light with Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen and Manhattan Nocturne with Adrien Brody. Also was a producer on Manhattan Night.
Will first met Arnon on Benjamin Troubles, a fun feature written by Lee Ross.
Richard Rasner, Brig Guard- is a lifetime actor and stuntman having started as a child actor on Romper Room and growing up through teen dramas and the like before settling into historical roles with Clan Darksail in many popular pirate films of the last 20 years. He was also a Historical Consultant on this film, regarding piracy in the Caribbean, a subject on which he is a published author.
Diana Haberstick, Production Designer and Costumes- Diana has a broad background in theater and has worked in TV/Film for the past 5 years. She bases her designs on script analysis, research, the director’s vision, the audience’s perception, and her own intuition. https://www.dianahaberstickdesign.com
Maybelle Pineda, Art Director- From humble beginnings in the Philippines to the big city of Los Angeles, Maybelle works in leading industries in motion design, video editing and production. She currently works at BOND while trying to do a lot of good at Resume.Works www.Maybellepineda.com
Scott Brown, Production Manager- is a writer, producer, director, publisher and mentor. Having stopped ghostwriting over 7 years ago, Scott has sold and/or optioned 36 scripts under his own name. Scott boarded “The Pirate Captain Toledano” as Unit Production Manager, and contributed the production capabilities of his company, The Indie Vision Project.
Mendel Katz, Cinematographer- Mendel is an LA-based cinematographer with experience in short films, music videos and corporate production. Like this film’s director, mendel doesn’t work on Saturdays. https://www.mk-visuals.com
Phoebe Dawson, Key Makeup Artist- is a Makeup Artist from a small beach town in New Zealand. From doing makeup for the cover of Forbes Magazine, to working on Athletes, chart topping Music Videos or Features Films, Phoebe loves the variety of her job whether it’s helping people look their best or creating a character.
Hillel Smith, Poster Design- is an artist and typography buff. He has painted Hebrew murals in California and Israel, made art commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, and creates posters for the likes of Patton Oswalt.
hillelsmith.info hebrewtype.com The parsha, illustrated!
Quotes From cast and crew:
“My mother was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and I was surrounded by her large Jamaican Jewish family throughout my childhood. When I read Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean four years ago, I realized that many of the pirate names mentioned in the book were surnames from my own family. I am descended from Jewish Pirates! When Arnon first announced his plan to make The Pirate Captain Toledano, I contacted him immediately and pledged my passionate support for the project. Two days later, Arnon offered me the role of the Captain. When we met, I brought along the kiddush cup that had been my family’s in Jamaica for many generations…that is the very cup we used in the film!” “I am thrilled that The Pirate Captain Toledano offers a glimpse at the little-known truth that Jews played a prominent…even dominant…role in navigation, ship command, merchant trade and, yes, piracy, during the Age of Discovery and the settling of the New World. (It’s a refreshing counter to the images of Jews that are too often depicted in popular culture: intellectuals, accountants, victims.)”- Stephen DeCordova
“This movie uncovers and informs the public about an unknown fact about Jewish History that is often overlooked. It truly is a unique story about Jewish Identity that has never been told.“ “I dedicate this film to my grandparents who were all holocaust survivors. This movie is not about Pirates searching for gold- it’s about preserving Jewish Identity, which is exactly what my heritage and family narrative is about- literally.” -Dan Shaked
“It’s a rare glimpse into history most of us don’t know!” -Will Beinbrink
“I’m vested in this project for the fact that, even though it’s fiction, it reveals an important piece of history that has been nearly forgotten.” -Scott Brown
“I think the film should be seen because its different and this story has not been told before, the location was really cool and authentic and I think everyone in the cast and crew did an amazing job! We had a group of “Pirates” playing the crew men that have been Pirates in all kinds of films and brought their own authentic outfits, who knew the proper Pirate mannerisms and how to hold a sword etc! (I didnt even know Jewish Pirates existed, and im sure many others arent aware of this either.)” -Phoebe Dawson
“As a student of Jewish history, I think it’s very important to highlight these lesser-known episodes of Jewish oppression and Jewish resistance, and how they shaped our world.” -Hillel Smith
By guest Omri Lior
I am an Israeli documentary filmmaker. My project “Words with a View” is about the life experience and work of iconic Israeli poets and writers and their impact on the foundation of the Israeli culture.
Barbara Tuchman has so beautifully said “Books are the carriers of civilization. Without [them] history is silent, literature is dumb”…
My project, therefore, was born out of the premise that the creators of books are indeed the pillars on which civilizations and societies stand, and therefore they (poets and writers) are central to every nation and its constructed identity. I am fortunate to be living and working in such a young country, like Israel, where I can witness the creation of a new culture, and document those responsible for providing the glue that bonds the nation together.
My project “Words with a View” started more than ten years ago and has combined my two passions; Literature and film-making.
Through the process of documentation, and because I have a large body of testimonials of many writers, I have been able to see the richness and complexity, the elements that make up Israeli culture. Each writer offers only one perspective but together they form a body of knowledge that paints the foundations of Israeli experience that is currently disappearing. Without such documentation the combined experience will vanish.
Talking about vanishing Israeli experiences, let me share with you mine, and explain how and why I combine my two passions—literature and film-making
I was born in Haifa, Israel, in 1952, an era with no computers, video games or television. Luckily, I lived next to the Municipal Library and as soon as I knew how to read, it became my second home. That library fostered my love for reading and my passion for photography. Next to my favorite shelf was a display of “Life” magazine. With every new issue, I would flip right to the “Picture of The Week” which was magical to me. I would sit and look at those pictures, visualizing the story behind them and imagining myself being the photographer. It is there and then that I knew I wanted to study film. When time came to apply for colleges, no university in Israel could offer Telecommunications and Film Studies. Therefore I headed to SDSU in California to pursue my passion. After graduation, I returned to Israel and for the next 25 years worked as a producer/director – making various films and TV programs. However, my passion for Hebrew Literature and Poetry never faded and at the age of forty-five I studied Hebrew literature at Ben Gurion University of the Negev and there my project, “Words with a View”, had its first seeds and later on its first fruit.
For one of my courses I researched a poem written by the prominent Israeli poet Chaim Gouri who was born in Tel Aviv, in 1925. Each aspect of his life represents a historical or cultural event in Israel and his experiences mirror those of a particular generation in Israel.
Chaim Gouri studied at the Kadoorie Agricultural High School (together with the murdered former Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin). He joined the Palmach (The Fighting Youth Troops) and in 1947 was sent to Hungary to assist Holocaust survivors to immigrate to Mandate Palestine. Gouri studied literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and worked as a Journalist. As a journalist he achieved fame with his coverage of the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann.
During my research about Chaim Gouri’s poem, I was looking for first hand answers regarding:
The origin of the poem,
The usage of the language, and
The social, political and literary influences.
I wanted to inquire about the connection between his personal experiences and his writing because the secondary materials simply did not satisfy me.
So, I thought to myself… “Chaim Gouri is a living poet, living in Jerusalem; he probably has the answers”.
My professor Prof. Yoram Bronowsky approved my proposal to interview Gouri for my final assignment.
An hour later I called Chaim Gouri who said: (and I quote) “come tomorrow at 2 pm, for 30 minutes, right before my nap”.
I could hardly sleep that night… as you can imagine, to interview Chaim Gouri was a big honor. I was very excited!
Although, I was allotted 30 minutes, our conversation lasted more than three and a half hours. It was magical and I knew then that I had a treasure in my camera.
Reflecting on this interview, I realized that documenting him, capturing his life story, his thoughts, views, reading his poems and sharing his personal feelings in the intimacy of his work room, revealed my new understanding about the connection between Hebrew literature, poetry and Israeli culture. Themes, on which their writing focus, provide us with a variety of cultural references to sorrow, pain, friendship, war, heroism, in the emerging new Israeli culture.
Following my experience with Chaim Gouri I realized how important it would be to document other prominent writers, and build a series of films that would be called “Words with a View”. Combining them all together would create the tapestry of the Israeli culture. I believe it is a treasure, a foundation, an authentic voice of their impact and unique inspiration on the Israeli culture.
And I have been doing it ever since.
The name of my project “Words with a View” portrays the elements that are essential to the content of the films.
The word View signifies “a landscape seen from a particular point”. Hence the expression “point of view” which is applied also to a way of looking or examining any abstract issue. The “Words” which are the foundation to any massage or description of an event or thoughts or feelings, are being talked about and described from an angle which looks at the internal from the outside. The words which are parts of a book or a poem are seen, by my documentation, from a deeper view which takes us to the period of the writer even before he wrote them, while they were still being processed by thought. Later on those “words” present us another “view”, and this time from the angle of the effect they created having been published, and their impact on the readers. Their influence was such that it created lines of thought adopted by various groups of society in different eras of their life experience.
The words are being viewed also from the inside. They are part of the perspective they describe. They are the tool and the result. Words will always have a view. The words are the shadow of the Views and can be seen even in the dark.
For example, Yonat and Alexander Sened’ s book ‘A Land without Shade’ was created out of the landscape of the desert in the period of the life of the pioneers, and out of the point of view of the feelings of deprivation that they had as a result of the Holocaust and the War of Independence. The words created and written were born out of that landscape which can also be seen as a landscape or ‘view’ of emotions and thoughts.
When you look at any nation’s history or culture, the View, in my opinion, is created by the word but also creates the Word.
In my project, by filming and editing the interviews which talk about the “words” I myself create a View. On the one hand, the series “Words with a View” examines the actual views, the landscapes which helped shape the words of the writers who were documented. On the other hand ,“Words with a View” is a complete look at those writers which let us understand and preserve their experiences which mirror our culture.
My project allows audiences to have an insight into the lives of these literary icons and hear their authentic voices. They all create a cultural texture that is essential for the collective understanding of who we are.
Following my initial idea which was creating a film anthology of eminent Israeli poets and writers, these materials became a unique archive which:
• Preserves documents with historical information.
• Provides a legacy for future generations
• Provides a resource of research and education, serving both institutions and the public.
• And, it is also a way of teaching the Hebrew language.
I choose poets and writers for my project on the basis of the following criteria:
• Their recognition and acknowledgments by the Israeli society.
• Their being winners of the “Israel Price for Literature & Poetry”
• Their being Poets and writers that are considered as the “Pillar of Culture” of Israeli modern poetry & literature.”
I was fortunate enough to capture and document most of the living first generation of poets and writers. These include prominent names such as, Nathan Shacham, Chaim Gouri, Tuvia Rivner, Yehudit Hendel, Aharon Megged… All are in their 90’s.
I followed that by documenting the “New wave” generation of poets and writers, all of which are in their 80s. These include AB Yehoshuaa, Ruth Almog, Yitzhak Averbuch Orpaz, Amnon Shamosh and Israel Pinkas.
Each documentary film includes:
• An interview with the poet or writer
• Filming in a location that is meaningful to their work and in their life.
• And a collection of archive materials.
In each interview I ask them to:
• Share with me their intimate work space.
• Describe their work habits.
• Reveal what led them to write including the reason behind a topic and the language style (personal, political and social events during that period.
• Share meaningful childhood memories.
• Personal biography.
• Read from a selection of their work.
The creation of the film about Chaim Gouri which is called “I’m a Civil War” became a template for my other films.
Currently, the series “Words with a View” consist of 22 interviews of eminent poets and writers. 14 of them are full length documentaries. These films along with my lectures are screened at film festivals, theaters, cultural centers, special event and universities.
Only after 10 films I found out that each of them contains the components portraying a cross section of Israel’s culture through different topics: and here are some examples:
Parenthood – Aharon Megged Talks about his father with high admiration.
Childhood – Ruth Almog writes about her father’s death and the effect it took on her life.
Living habitat Yonat immigrated from Poland right into the kibutz which is located in the desert. Her adaptation was not easy.
Social and political events Chaim Gouri cannot accept the adaptation of east Jerusalem but made it as part of his life.
My mission is to continue documenting prominent Israeli poets and writers and preserve their legacy for future generations.
My vision is that this project will serve as inspiration for others, to capture and document other artists in various domains such as music, theatre and art that influence our culture.