I just love learning something new. And perhaps that may explain why I adore documentary films, especially on subjects that I know nothing about. Documentaries meld the world of history and art with the world of film, and together can create a movie that is just as entertaining as the big hit at the local multiplex in your neighborhood. So when I heard I would be seeing a film about Theodor Herzl – the man known as the father of the State of Israel, I was intrigued and excited.
“It Is No Dream: The Life of Theordor Herzl” is a documentary produced by Moriah Films, a production company funded by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, Calif. Moriah Film’s resident director is the Academy Award-winning filmmaker Richard Trank. The documentary takes us back just over a century to the life of Theodor Herzl. He was a journalist, writer, poet and playwright and he was also a Jew.
The film is narrated by Oscar winner Ben Kingsley (“Ghandi”) and features actor Christoph Waltz as Herzl. The film starts as Herzl was covering a trial on assignment in Paris. Herzl recognized a worrisome development: the growth of anti-Semitism in Paris. At this time Paris was considered to be the most enlightened city in the world and although Herzl had faced discrimination of this sort personally while growing up, he was shocked that it was playing out nightly during protests in the city of lights, right beyond his hotel window. And what was even more mystifying was that his publishers in Vienna were re-writing his articles to exclude the anti-Semitic chants that were shouted by crowds of Parisians.
And it was these few stirring events that had Herzl ponder over the problem that he was a witness to. He worried that if a solution was not found by his own people, that the consequences could be catastrophic. Finally he came to solution that his people, the Jews needed their own homeland.
Herzl authored a manuscript that discussed the Jewish problem and came to the same conclusion – that the Jews needed their own country to call home. Many of Herzl friends thought he was going mad. But it eventually Jews from all around the world, rich and poor, would rally around Herzl’s idea and by 1903 Herzl led the first Zionist congress in Basil, Switzerland.
The film takes a journey from Herzl’s youth, through his Zionist revelations, and the start of a movement that would change the world.
I enjoyed “It Is No Dream: The Life of Theodor Herzl” very much. It was well-written and very informative. It not only covered the historical facts about Herzl, but his inspirations and the many difficulties and hurdles that occurred during his lifetime.
The one thing that I found disappointing about the documentary was that it was a bit boring – which is the last thing I expected considering the subject matter. Herzl was a man of vision and passion and the film lacked the passion that would have matched the man who is considered to be the father of Israel.
The film was limited visually due to the time period that Herzl was born. It depended upon the use of a handful of photographs, a few very old films from the silent French filmmakers the Lumière brothers, and a few films of historic buildings and cities.
Perhaps a little more zest on the part of Kinsley and Waltz, mixed with just a bit of a re-write of the script and a more stirring score could have given this film the passion that it lacks.
I still think overall it is a good film, and if you are curious about this subject matter it is an excellent choice of film.
“It Is No Dream” is not rated and has a run-time of 1 hour and 37 minutes.
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Whatever your movie choice this week, please remember your movie theater etiquette: silence your cell phones & no texting, please don’t talk during the film and remove your children if they become a distraction to other audience members. Don’t forget that laughing, crying and cheering are always approved behavior and even encouraged.
-Kay Shackleton is a film historian with special focus on Silent Films, see her work on SilentHollywood.com