Michael K. Williams
Michael K. Williams

Movement on a project first announced on this blog in late 2015, which was set up at Fox Searchlight at the time after the studio acquired a pitch from Gideon Raff (“Tyrant” executive producer and co-creator), who was to write and direct the film, which is based on the 1981 “Operation Brothers” rescue of Ethiopian Jews and their relocation to Israel.

A brief version of the story goes… Ethiopia, September 1974, Emperor Haile Selassie was ousted by a pro-communist military junta who then installed a totalitarian-style government run by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. Communism was officially adopted, and as a result, the new regime gradually began to embrace anti-religious and anti-Israeli stances, which meant hostility towards then Jews of Ethiopia (Beta Israel, also known as Ethiopian Jews). Concerned for the fate of the Ethiopian Jews, the Israeli government officially recognized the Beta Israel community as Jews in 1975, for the purpose of the “Law of Return” (essentially an act that grants Jews all over the world the right to *return* to Israel). In the early 1980s, Ethiopia went through a series of famines and civil wars. As a result, the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians, including the Beta Israel community, were on unstable ground, with many fleeing to neighboring Sudan. The Israeli government would then step in to assist, and in several covert military operations, eventually rescued much of the Beta Israel population (Ethiopian Jews), *returning* them to Israel – operations that continued throughout much of the 1980s.

The Gideon Raff project is no longer at Fox Searchlight and now has the backing of Bron Studios (“Fences”) under the title “Red Sea Diving Resort,” with Michael K. Williams is in negotiations (reported today by Variety) to join the previously cast Chris Evans and Haley Bennett.

When the project was first unveiled in 2015, comparisons to Ben Affleck’s 2013 Oscar-winning “Argo” (the fictionalized account of the CIA’s 1980 rescue of 6 Americans during the US hostage crisis in Iran) were made.

Alexandra Milchan will co-produce the film with writer/director Gideon Raff, with filming set to kick off this summer now that the project is fully financed.

No word at this time on what roles each of the above actors has signed up to play.

“Red Sea Diving Resort” is one of 2 projects on the above operation in the works that we know of; in February of this year, we alerted you to a project that will tell one family’s story during the turmoil, from Ethiopian-Israeli filmmaker Alamork Marsha which will be her feature film debut. Titled “Fig Tree,” the film is based on her experiences as a child in war-torn Addis Ababa in 1991.

"Fig Tree"
“Fig Tree”

The script, which has traveled a bit over the last 3 years, won the $50,000 top prize at the pitching event at the Jerusalem International Film Lab in 2014. It was also selected for the Locarno Open Doors Co-production Lab, which was dedicated to Sub-Saharan African cinema that year.

In her pitch, Marsha revealed how “Fig Tree” was inspired by her childhood, living with her grandmother on the outskirts Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, during the civil war, and her Jewish family’s decision to move to Israel.

“Through this film I want to go back to my grandmother’s house in Ethiopia to describe life in the war and express the dissonance between two conditions, the war that brings death with it and the human lust for life,” the filmmaker said previously. “One of my clearest memories is that I am playing chase with my friends and the next minute I am trying to avoid the soldiers’ crazy looks as they are dragging boys into trucks in order to send them to fight in the frontline. This surreal moment keeps repeating itself. I am playing and the war around me is kicking.”

The Ethiopia-set production on “Fig Tree” (using both non-actors as well as actors from the local theatre scene in Addis Ababa) is to be produced by Saar Yogev and Naomi Levari at Tel Aviv-based Black Sheep Film Productions, along with Penrose Av Medien and En Compagnie Des Lamas.

It is further supported by Rabinovich Film Fund, Gesher-Avi Hai Production grant, the Beracha Foundation, World Cinema Fund, MFG, CNC-Cinema Du Monde, Gesher Multi Cultural Fund, and Israel Film Fund.

Alamork’s “Fig Tree” is to be unveiled later this year. The above photo is from the film courtesy of production company Black Sheep Film.