Jake Paltrow has been spending the Independence Day holiday weekend in the Czech Republic for the world premiere of his Adolf Eichmann drama June Zero, which had a special screening at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
The Hebrew-language feature unfolds in the lead-up to the Nazi war criminal’s hanging in Israel in May 1962, as debate raged in the country over whether his death sentence should be upheld. At the end of this story you can watch an exclusive first-look clip from the film.
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June Zero is the New York-based director’s fourth feature after the documentary De Palma and fiction works Young Ones and The Good Night.
Paltrow (brother of Oscar winner Gwyneth) started digging into the events surrounding this key moment in Israeli history after coming across a detail on how the authorities secretly ordered the construction of a portable cremation oven to incinerate Eichmann’s body immediately after his execution
“I thought that this could be a good movie, but I was working off a very small detail,” recounts Paltrow.
He travelled to Israel on a research trip in 2018 to track down and conduct filmed interviews with people connected to the building of the oven, with a vague idea of using the footage in a film.
This morphed into a fictionalized tale drawing on these accounts, with the drama now revolving around the intertwined stories of Eichmann’s main prison guard, a Holocaust survivor who assisted in the war criminal’s capture and trial, and a young Jewish boy, newly arrived in Israel from Libya, working at a factory clandestinely building the oven.
Another turning point was bringing on board Israeli filmmaker Tom Shoval as a co-writer.
“There were historical and cultural layers I didn’t think I could penetrate. I thought I can’t cook up this sort of speculative historical drama on my own,” he explains.
Israeli film critic and Tel Aviv University film professor Ariel Schweitzer connected Paltrow with Shoval. The pair hit it off immediately.
“The moment I met Jake, I felt like there was a spiritual bond. He’s a kindred spirit,” says Shoval, whose feature credits to date comprise Youth and Shake Your Cares Away.
The latter title starred French actress Bérénice Bejo and was executive produced by Alejandro González Iñárritu, who mentored Shoval early in his career through the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.
Shoval had no qualms about taking on a co-writer role.
“I want to be where the good films are made, to be part of this creative process. I’ve written a few times for other people, including on the short film Aya, that went on to be nominated for an Oscar,” he says.
Having initially tried to write the screenplay in English, Shoval lobbied for the feature to be shot in Israel and in Hebrew.
Katerina Sulova/CTK via AP Images, Issac Garrido/AP
“It felt strange writing this story set in Israel in 1962 and for all the characters to be speaking English. I also felt that the film needed to be shot in Israel with Israeli actors that could bring the tapestry, the geography, the politics, the complexity of this era,” he says.
Paltrow agreed to take on the challenge, with the pair going back and forth between English and Hebrew versions and re-translations.
“I didn’t find the learning curve as steep as I initially believed it would be,” says Paltrow. “By the time we were going through the rehearsal process, even if my Hebrew is not great, I could understand.”
Another challenge was Paltrow’s decision to shoot on 16mm to give the film a 1960s feel.
“I wanted to kill him,” jokes producer David Silber of Tel Aviv-based Metro Communications, who was faced with the challenge of getting the film to a lab in Romania against the backdrop of pandemic travel restrictions.
Other producers included Miranda Bailey at Cold Iron Pictures and Oren Moverman at The Film Arcade in co-production with production company and distributor United King Films, which is planning an autumn release in Israel. Films Boutique handles international sales.
Paltrow and Shoval also grappled with how to give the story a contemporary resonance. Paltrow says they took inspiration from the work of late Shoah filmmaker Claude Lanzmann and his rejection of archival material in favor of testimony and space, giving him an honorary credit at the very end of the film.
The film now heads to the Jerusalem Film Festival later this July, where it will screen in the Israeli feature competition.
Paltrow and Shoval have already started collaborating on a second feature together. This time it will be an English-language feature shot in the U.S., but the pair are keeping the details under wraps.
“We meet up wherever we can. We will work before the Jerusalem film. I’ll go out early,” says Paltrow.
Shoval is also deep in pre-production on his provisionally titled fiction feature Life With Credit. Popular Israeli actress Dana Ivgy will star as a woman with mental health issues, who wants her brother to dissolve his legal guardianship of her.
The feature begins shooting in a month and is produced by Itay Akirav, whose previous credits include Toronto 2019 Discovery title Africa.
Check out the first-look clip from June Zero above.
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