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The Israel native has interviewed 20 pilots, co-pilots and radio operators, as well as family members of those who died during and since the 1948 war.
Like Flint, Dvir has a personal link to his film, which he hopes to release to television and through DVD sales by the end of this year.
“My father told me that as a little boy in Tel Aviv, he stood on the balcony of his Tel Aviv apartment while an Egyptian Spitfire was bombing the city,” Dvir said. “Then my father looked up and saw a plane piloted by one of the Machal volunteers blast the Spitfire out of the sky. These men saved the city … but for them, I would not be here today.”
Though it’s not unusual in filmmaking for similarly themed projects to go public at about the same time, the nearly simultaneous arrival of these three films raises some questions. For one, some 4,000 volunteers from 58 countries fought in Israel’s War of Independence, the overwhelming number in the infantry, artillery and other ground forces. Two low-key documentaries about their exploits were released last year. But the lion’s share of film and media attention has been on the dashing flyboys – to the intense annoyance of the land-based grunts who always saw the beribboned airmen walk off with the prettiest girls.
The producers of the forthcoming films counter that the airmen lend themselves to more dramatic treatment and that telling the story of thousands of foot soldiers would diffuse the focus of their films.
On the question of why they didn’t pool their resources and talents and produce one major production, the filmmakers say several attempts to do so foundered on such Hollywood cliches as “creative differences” and on conflicting egos.
Dvir said he attempted to make common cause with the two other producers, while Flint said he tried several times to enlist Spielberg’s cooperation. Flint also charged that Spielberg had “lured away” some of the pilots slated to be interviewed in his production.
Spielberg denied the claim and observed that filmmaking is above all a collaborative effort. A joint enterprise with Flint, she said, “wouldn’t be the right fit.”
Such squabbles aside, the volunteers who served in the ground forces generally agree that the war was won by the Israelis themselves, who bore the overwhelming brunt of casualties in dead and wounded. Moreover, few would question that the story of the Machal volunteers on the ground, in the air and on the seas is worth telling, if only to redeem in some small measure the inaction of Diaspora communities during the Holocaust.
With the vagaries of filmmaking and shuttered projects endemic to the trade, the hope is that one of the projects, or even all three, will stay the course and preserve a brave chapter in Israel’s history for this and future generations.