Director Gideon Raff was born and raised in Israel, but he had a good excuse for not knowing one of the most amazing stories to come from his homeland.
The truth behind Operation Brothers, which teamed Mossad agents with Ethiopian Jews to save thousands of lives, only became declassified a few years ago.
When Raff heard about the mission he had to bring it to the big screen. Or, the next best thing in Hollywood today … Netflix.
“The Red Sea Diving Resort,” starring Chris Evans, Michael Kenneth Williams and Haley Bennett, shows Mossad agents and Ethiopian Jews creating a phony hotel getaway for a noble cause. They operated the ruse to sneak African Jews, routinely targeted for death, to safe harbor in Israel. The refugees already had traveled hundreds of miles to flee civil war and religious persecution.
Now, they needed this risky scheme to work.
Actual tourists frolicked at the Sudanese site while Mossad agents worked behind the scenes on the rescue initiative, side by side with their African partners. They even passed out multi-color brochures to make the faux resort seem legitimate.
It seems too farcical, too improbable, to be true. It’s a real story, one Raff delivered with the help of the people behind the rescue.
— IndieWire (@IndieWire) July 29, 2019
Gaff met with the commander behind the operation as well as the woman who ran the “hotel” before cameras rolled. Then the hard work began.
“I wanted to create a credible story that honors the community and the sacrifices on both sides… work with the real people who’ve gone through this,” Raff says. That flowed to the film’s casting, which included Ethiopian and Israeli actors “telling the stories of their lives.”
One actress entered the project’s costume trailer and looked at the photographs pinned up for reference.
“She recognized her father and uncle on the boat in the pictures and she was in tears,” Raff says.
The director previously helmed “Prisoners of War,” the series that inspired Showtime’s “Homeland.” He came away from the “Resort” shoot with the utmost respect for his leading man.
“Chris [Evans] is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” Raff gushes of the man who recently retired as the MCU’s Captain America. “He’s extremely dedicated …. his research was so deep. He gave four hundred percent of himself, every minute on and off set. He’s a natural born leader.”
“@ChrisEvans understood that this was a story about humanity”: Captain America actor, wearing Star of David necklace, was ‘passionate’ about role as Israeli agent who freed Jewish Ethiopian refugees, says @Netflix director of “The Red Sea Diving Resort”https://t.co/JvXZubC503 pic.twitter.com/T6das1YojC
— Michael Dickson (@michaeldickson) July 24, 2019
The events depicted in the film take place in the early 1980s, but “Resort’s” writer/director says the timing couldn’t be better for the film’s release.
“It’s not just because of anti Semitism which is on the rise in many places. Hate crimes in general are on the rise, bullying is on the rise. It’s a world where dozens of people are drowning in the Mediterranean on a weekly basis, and we move on to the next headline,” Raff says.
Raff’s “Resort” had to condense the full story for dramatic purposes. He says there’s so much left to tell, giving the length of the operation (five years) and the heroism across the board, that the saga may not end with the Netflix film.
“I wish I had more time in the movie to show the many Israeli planes that landed in the desert,” he says, another aspect of “Operation Brothers” that could be ready for its close up.
“The truth of the matter is, every advisor I met on the movie can fill an ongoing series,” he says. “The story is so rich, there’s so much to tell … why not?”