Trailing the Untapped Potential of Sci-fi in the Holy Land

Crowdsource funding for Israeli fantasy flick 'The Last Shepherd' takes off; film to be produced by members of local fantasy and science fiction community.

The Land of Israel is bathed in history, both holy and bloody. But not many have thought of utilizing Israel's latent potential to create a fictional work of fantasy. A new film that is nearing the successful completion of a crowdsourced funding campaign hopes to change this.

The makers behind the film "Haro'eh Ha'aharon" ("The Last Shepherd"), wanted to raise NIS 10,000 on the crowdsource funding website Mimoona. At this point, several days before their fundraising deadline of May 4, they have successfully raised NIS 36,000. This, despite the trailer they created for the film not quite being up to Hollywood standards.

"Haro'eh Ha'aharon" is an adventure movie that follows a young man and a woman journeying all over Israel, says Uri Lifshitz, whose day job is working with mainframe computer servers and who is an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy in his spare time. Like most adventure movies, this one will be a trek into the souls of its characters, and in keeping with a movie that has touches of fantasy, the dark side won't take a back seat.

As is common with fans of fantasy, the conversation with Lifshitz jumped from the movie to topics like the TV show "Game of Thrones" and the community of science fiction and fantasy fans in Israel. "The genre of science fiction and fantasy exists based upon the goodwill and the joy of the people who create it," says Lifshitz. "It has very little support."

The group behind "Haro'eh Ha'aharon," Evil Sun Productions, includes figures well-known among the local science fiction community. The director, for example, is Daniel Dar, a computer programmer and filmmaker. The chief scriptwriter is Guy Bosco and the cinematographer is Eyal Shapira. The lead actor will be Nir Sharon, who will be supported by actor Nir Kitaro. Kitaro's brother Ziv will be the film's producer along with Adi Oshra Hamiel.

The crew also includes Keren Lin, who will also serve as assistant cinematographer on the film. Lin is a talented cosplayer – a term first developed in Japan, referring to an actor who dresses up in costumes of recognized characters from anime, fantasy and science fiction movies and TV series.
The group has already succeeded in putting together a feature-length film with far less money than what they raised for "Haro'eh Ha'aharon." With just NIS 2,500, they made "Mishakei Crossover" ("Crossover Games"), which combines the world of superheroes and fantasy with reality TV shows. It tosses in characters like Daenerys Targaryen from "Game of Thrones," Prof. Snape from "Harry Potter," Xena the Warrior Princess and Batman into one apartment where everyone is trying to win a million shekels. The movie was first shown at Tel Aviv's 2012 Icon Festival for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the movie is still being screened.

The project is one of many that grew out of the science fiction community in Israel. In addition to "Haro'eh Ha'aharon," Lifshitz and friends are working on a stage production called "Hamasa L'har Hahurban Ha'afel Shel Abadon" ("The Journey to the Darkness and Destruction of the Mountain of Doom.") It is a play in the style of the gamebooks in which the reader/player must choose between different options and the book directs them to the appropriate page. In the production, they bring an audience member up onstage and have that person propel the plot forward. If the person "dies" – something that happens often in the sci-fi narratives – they leave the stage and someone else continues the story.

This time they want to make a movie targeted more toward mainstream viewers – those who aren't necessarily interested in fantasy.

"We want a real adventure movie that takes place throughout Israel, that will take all the conventions of fantasy and bring them here, to home, to what is close to us, with elements which we don't think of as belonging to fantasy," says Lifshitz. "For example, someone goes around with a red string in his hand as a charm against the evil eye, and this is magic. Kabbalists who make amulets, things like that."

Lifshitz relates that they want to faithfully mix the real world into the story as much as possible. "We wanted to take science fiction and turn it into a part of uswith everything that is the scenery of the land of our childhood." Lifshitz continues, "It doesn't need to be 'we must go to Mount Doom.' It will be at the Cave of the Patriarchs, in the Negev, in Jerusalem. I want people to look at this and say, "Wow, this could really happen here."

Of course, Lifshitz is aware that filming at the Cave of the Patriarchs will likely raise a problem or two, and while he doesn't deny the political sensitivities he still maintains his hope.

"The creative process is a political minefield," says Lifshitz. "The moment you delve into something that is important to you here, everyone has an opinion, certainly in Israel."
 

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