Mel Gibson making Hannukah Movie with Warner Brothers 9-11-11
Of all the filmmakers you might expect to make a film about Jewish hero Judah Maccabee, Mel Gibson is probably not at the top of the list. So consider this a Hannukah surprise.
Deadline broke the news that Gibson and Warner Bros. are teaming on a film about the hero who led a small band of Jews against mighty Seleucid armies and, among other things, liberated Jerusalem. Gibson will produce the picture, and potentially direct, too.
It would seem a curious choice for Gibson, who has a past checkered with accusations -- and admitted utterances -- of anti-semitic sentiment. His 2004 film, "The Passion of the Christ," was a blockbuster hit but proved wildly divisive, with Jewish audiences taking offense to the way Jews were portrayed. In the midst of the controversy over the film, Gibson defended himself against the charges, saying, "For me, it goes against the tenets of my faith, to be racist in any form. To be anti-Semitic is a sin. It's been condemned by one Papal Council after another. There's encyclicals on it, which is, you know -- to be anti-Semitic is to be unchristian, and I'm not." In 2006, he was recorded, during a DUI arrest, drunkenly blaming Jews for all the wars in the world. According to the LA Times, Gibson has long wanted to do a film about Maccabee, and considering doing so as a followup to "Passion." He'll be collaborating with screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, who has been honored for his work recognizing the atrocities of the Holocaust. Still, Jewish groups are unhappy with the news, with Rabbi Marvin Heir, founder and dean of Los Angeles's Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance, amongst the community leaders who voiced their displeasure in statements to The Hollywood Reporter. (Huffington Post)
Mel Gibson apparently casting for new Maccabees Movie (According to TMZ) 11-14-11
Mel Gibson's secret dinner date with Azita Ghanizada had everything to do with her good looks -- but not because Mel wants to date her ... he wants to cast her.
According to our sources, Mel met Azita a few weeks ago and he was taken aback by her beauty and unique ethnicity (born in Afghanistan, grew up in Virginia). We're told the two talked for a while that night and Mel asked her out to dinner to discuss possibly working together.
TMZ obtained photos of the pair at that dinner last week ... where we're told Gibson discussed his much-hyped upcoming movie about Judah Maccabee. Our sources say Ghanizada was hip to the idea, but so far no official deal has been made. Despite how the pics may appear, we're told the dinner was just business.
Move Over, Mel Gibson: New Judah Maccabee Project in the Works
The Bruce Nash-produced project will compete with Warner Bros.' take on the story.
(Hollywood Reporter, Sept. 2011)
The war for Hanukkah is on. Or Hollywood's version of it anyway.
Producer Bruce Nash (Modern Marvels) is pulling together a version of the Hanukkah origin story for a potential feature or TV miniseries. News of the project comes just three weeks after Warner Bros. acknowledged that it is developing a Judah Maccabee/Hanukkah movie with actor-writer-director Mel Gibson and Basic Instinct screenwriter Joe Eszterhas.
Gibson's involvement in the WB project as a producer (and possible star and/or director) provoked immediate recriminations from some in the Jewish community because of his record of making anti-Semitic remarks. The Hanukkah story is a pillar of Jewish history and describes the successful rebellion that liberated the Second Temple in Jerusalem from the Greek occupier Antiochus. Judah Maccabee, who became known as "The Hammer" after leading the fight, instituted Hanukkah -- the "Festival of Lights" -- to celebrate the triumph. Jewish leaders strongly indicated their displeasure with Gibson's desire to appropriate such a treasured cultural milestone.
That antipathy could provide an advantage for Nash's project, which, unlike the Gibson effort, already has a finished script by Scott Abbott, who wrote the HBO movie Winchell and co-wrote Introducing Dorothy Dandridge for the cable network. Nash and Bob Kosberg would produce along with Maura Dunbar of Odyssey Networks, where Nash originally developed the project and which provided initial financing.
While Christmas has been represented extensively in TV and film -- most recently in the Catherine Hardwicke-directed The Nativity Story -- Hanukkah has yet to claim its own holiday classic. The Nash-Abbott version is clearly counting on the support of those in the industry who want to provide a take on Hanukkah that doesn't involve Gibson -- or his eight crazy nights.
Mel Gibson's Maccabee Rival Producer Bruce Nash Speaks About Project (Hollywood Reporter, Sept. 2011)
Wanting to tell the story of Jewish heroism "comes from a very positive point of view," Nash says, and not from an anti-Gibson stance.
Sparks always fly when two or more projects telling the same story bubble up in Hollywood at the same time. Precedent shows that being second is the same as being last.
But a story as cherished as that of the origin of Hanukkah comes with special sensitivities, which is why Warner Bros.' efforts to make a version with Mel Gibson have prompted nervousness and sharp criticism in certain quarters. Producer Bruce Nash, who has been working on his own version with screenwriter Scott Abbott (Introducing Dorothy Dandridge) since 2007, says his project didn't originally arise from any competitive instinct.
"Doing this project comes from a very positive rather than a negative point of view," Nash says. "This is not just a matter of dueling Hollywood projects."
Nash says he has been trying to find a way to tell the Judah Maccabee story since he entered the business in 1992, and that his personal motivation predates the news that Gibson and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct) are developing a script for Warner Bros. Just the same, Nash acknowledges that Gibson's involvement in a rival project does trigger a protective instinct, even if it isn't the underlying reason for doing his own.
"I'm proud of my religion and this story is about heroism, courage and sacrifice," he says. "I thought it was an important story to share with people of all faiths. For me this project is a lifetime in the making."
The story behind Odyssey Networks' Judah Maccabee movie (To be titled "Eight" referring to the 8 days of Hanukkah) By John W. Kennedy
Eight's Odyssey. The other film currently in the works about Hanukkah hero Judah Maccabee (the one not involving Mel Gibson) has an interesting story of its own. I sat down with Odyssey Network's EVP and Chief Content Officer Maura Dunbar to talk about the project's current journey to fruition. Odyssey, which is producing in association with Nash Entertainment, is looking for a TV home for the planned four-hour miniseries.
JWK: Can you tell me something about where you are in developing Eight?
MAURA DUNBAR: Yes, I'm glad you've asked…We have a fully-written script. We started back in February of 2007…We were approached by Bruce Nash and his producing partner Bob Kosberg…They had this idea with Scott Abbott.
JWK: So the idea for producing Eight actually arose before the announcement of Mel Gibson's planned movie?
MAURA DUNBAR: Oh, yes. We made a deal. They came to us with this idea and as an interfaith company we realized that there was an opportunity to tell one of the great stories of battles for faith that had not been explored, not really been told. It's an amazing battle story and a story of human triumph and a battle for belief that hasn't really been depicted in film. So, we contracted and we hired Scott Abbot to write the script. We partnered with Bruce and Bob to produce. We have taken this around town.
Scott unfortunately went through a very difficult illness and was hospitalized and to be honest with you he was on the transplant list for a new kidney. He was that sick. I look back on it and it's one of the things I appreciate about being able to work with this company…I had the ability, because of who we are as a company, to live out (the value of) compassion in business and I stuck with Scott. I did not take this project away from him. I did not go to another writer. If I was at the network, my pressure would have been to ditch out of that writer. I could have well gotten out of that deal. No agent would have fought me on it. I could have settled and I could have gone on to another writer. But Scott so loved this project…He was so connected (to it). It was like the thing he lived for to write because he loves to write. And And I have to say I think it's one of his best scripts.
JWK: Is he okay now?
MAURA DUNBAR: Yes. It ended up being, believe it or not, a heart virus. A virus that settled in his heart and which then had all these other consequences, shutting organs down and so forth. He's fine. He is vibrant. In fact, he's writing. He's publishing a book.
In the whole (media) huff-puff with Mel Gibson, there's a story of belief and faith that's sort of getting lost in the shuffle…Scott developed this story based on sacred texts. We've had a rabbinical scholar…review it…And, of course, on our board we have Jewish, Christian and Islamic (scholars). So we really have come to this story to tell a great story of faith, as opposed to a story with an agenda. In any case, miniseries are very difficult to mount
JWK: So, this is planned as a miniseries. For which network?
MAURA DUNBAR: We are trying to find a network. We have a fully written part one and a very detailed 30-40 page treatment (of part two).
In the world of TV movies, you have to put a deal together in order to get your movie made…So, you have to find international money. There's not a lot happening internationally right now. The EU is suffering…We had a brief glimmer of hope where it looked like we had interest from Spain, Germany, Italy (and) South Africa for a miniseries. If we were able to bring that money to the table, I would have then gone to a US broadcast network and said "Look there's a great opportunity to do this story much in the way that The 10 Commandments was done. You could air this around the holidays where it will be a perennial.
There's this wonderful great story behind the Hanukkah celebration that nobody really knows. But the European market has fallen flat…International buyers at this last MIP (TV buyers convention) at Cannes said "We're not doing miniseries . We only do two hours." So, now I have to sort of reconfigure.
It's not (like) Starz doing Spartacus or even Pillars of the Earth, where as a premium pay cable network their viewers expect a greater graphic depiction of sex and violence which unfortunately doesn't suit out faith-based constituency. We do have a certain level of broadcast network standards that we think about being a multi-faith company. We don't want to be in a gratuitous situation. It's not that we don't have battles. It's not that we don't have a great love story but it's how we would depict it. We are at a crossroads. We are trying to find investment and financing and find the funding that will be able to make this project come to life.
Comment: Maura actually generously gave me the script for Eight to read which I hope to do by Hanukkah (which, this year, begins on Tuesday, December 20th). I will say that, from the portion I've read so far, it strikes me as just the sort of big miniseries the broadcast networks would be wise to embrace again. Remember when they actually programmed big-budget high-quality miniseries like Jesus of Nazareth, Roots, Holocaust and Shogun. Now, a network's idea of event programming is a two-hour Bachelor. I would think that in an age of DVRs miniseries would actually thrive. After all, today's technology allows for viewing at one's own pace (the same way you read a book) rather than having to commit to being home to watch at a certain hour for several nights in a row.
Anyway, I'm rooting for Eight and hope that next year at this time I'm writing a review just prior to its highly-publicized airing.
Messianic Hanukkah Resource Available
According to the Gospel of John, Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah celebrated the Festival of Hanukkah (John 10:22). Hanukkah celebrates the heroic exploits of Judas Maccabeus and his battle for religious freedom. The Story of Judas Maccabeus is a timeless inspirational story of great faith and courage against seemingly impossible odds. It is also a timely story about the collision of traditional religion and modernity. Hanukkah celebrates the heroic exploits of Judas Maccabeus and his battle for religious freedom. These events occurred during the four-hundred silent years between the "Old" and "New" Testaments. The Seleucid Greeks that ruled over the Jewish people made observing Judaism a capital offense and ordered all copies of the Bible to be collected and burned. In the year 167 Before Christ, Judas Maccabaeus led the Jewish people into battle to preserve the Holy Bible and to establish religious liberty. Judas was called Maccabeus which means "the Hammer" in Aramaic. Recently, Maccabee and Hanukkah have been on the news due to the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson's plans to make a movie about the Hanukkah story.
Stephen Andrew Missick, a Messianic pastor at King of Saints Messianic Congregation of Cleveland, Texas has written and illustrated a comic book series and developed resources about Hanukkah. He has entitled the series "The Hammer of God" because Judah the son of Mattathias was given the Aramaic nick-name "Maccabee" which means "Hammer." The Jews believed that Judah Maccabee was the hammer of God that he was used by God to beat back forces intent on wiping out the Jewish people.
"For believers in the Messiah and for Christians interested in the "Jewish Roots of Jesus" Hanukkah is of primary importance," Missick said. "Hanukkah was not one of the Jewish festivals which required a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and yet we find an account of Yeshua, in the Temple in Jerusalem observing Hanukkah in the winter. Yeshua believed that observance on Hanukkah was important, otherwise he wouldn't have celebrated it."
Missick believes that Hanukkah is a relevant story. "Hanukkah is about religious freedom. Religious freedom is under attack around the world. We see Christians being persecuted for their beliefs in Egypt, Iraq, and now even in Europe and the United States. Hanukkah also reminds us of the dangers of anti-Semitism, another evil force that is, unfortunately, growing stronger."
Missick also hopes to clarify some misconceptions about Hanukkah. "The story of oil supernaturally lasting eight days isn't in the earliest sources. The reason that Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days is because the holiday is patterned after Sukkot-the Feast of Tabernacles. The Maccabees were not able to observe Sukkot because of the war so when they liberated Jerusalem and the Temple they celebrated "Sukkot in Kislev" (the original name of Hanukkah) and decreed that it would be thereafter an annual celebration. Also, some Christians are skeptical of Hanukkah because the Hanukkah story is told in the Apocrypha. However, they need to bear in mind that this is an ancient Jewish story-and it was not written by Roman Catholics. Also, the story of the Maccabees is essential to know in order to fully understand the historical context into which Jesus the Messiah came."
Stephen Andrew Missick is the author The Words of Jesus in the Original Aramaic: Discovering the Semitic Roots of Christianity. He is an ordained minister of the gospel. He graduated from Sam Houston State University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Rev. Missick has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East and has lived among the Coptic Christians in Egypt and Aramaic Christians in Syria. He has participated in the archeological excavations at Bethsaida in Israel. He served as a soldier in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and 2004 and as a chaplain in the Army National Guard in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010. While serving as a soldier in Iraq he learned Aramaic from native Aramaic-speaking Assyrian Christians. Rev. Missick is the writer and illustrator of the comic book series The Hammer of God which dramatizes the story of Judah Maccabeus and Charles Martel.
As I compiled this comic book it was evident from the news that Americans no longer value the freedom of religion. In the holiday season of 2011, many people are afraid to say "Merry Christmas," less this statement be taken as an expression of religious faith and thus offensive. In certain states, atheist groups have erected court-sanctioned signs near nativity scenes and Hanukkah menorahs (hannikiyahs) that mock, vilify and demean religion. Far-left hate groups such as the "Freedom of Religion Foundation" and the ACLU file lawsuits to intimidate people from expressing their religious faith. Not only is the free exercise of religion under assault, so are the freedom of speech and the freedom of conscience. The Secretary of State of the United States appeared before the United Nations and complained that, in her view, deeply held religious beliefs are hindering progress. I read a report in Yahoo News that stated that the Governor of Texas should be arrested for expressing his opinion about the military's homosexuality policy and his observation that religious freedom is under attack in the United States. The journalist believed that the Governor's opinion and his act of expressing it was criminal. The story of Hanukkah is about the importance of religious freedom and also about the danger of anti-Semitism. It would seem that after the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust that Americans would universally condemn anti-Semitism. However, in the "Occupy Wall Street" protest, many of the protesters chanted anti-Semitic slogans. It is very disturbing to see such hatred expressed in a popular movement in the United States in the 21st Century.
The Jews have a tradition of putting a Hanukkah Menorah (a Hanukkiyah) proudly in their window during the eight days of Hanukkah. This way they proudly express their religious faith and let their lights shine. The Hanukkah story reminds us of the sacrifices made in order to win religious freedom and the story should also inspire us to stand up for our religious freedom and defy those who would try to deny us our God given rights.
For those interested in the story of Hanukkah, I have a comic book series on the story of Hanukkah that also includes the story of Charles Martel, another champion of religious freedom, who fought against Islamist militants in the year 732 AD.
The Series includes the following books:
The Hammer of God: The Stories of Judah Maccabee and Charles Martel
Judas Maccabeus: The Hammer of God
Charles Martel: The Hammer of God
Maccabee: The Story of Hanukkah
The comic book series is available from www.comixpress.com:
The Hammer of God: Historical and Character Reference
The Hammer of God Mini-Comic
The Hammer of God Coloring Book
The Hammer of God: The Battle for Religious Freedom
In my books I list various Hanukkah resources, from Handle's Oratorio on Judas Maccabeus to the movie by Mel Gibson (which is, as I write, still in development) and the mini-series by Bruce Nash (also currently in development).