The Red Sea Diving Resort | SFJFF39's CLOSING NIGHT FILM

Michael K Williams (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) and Chris Evans (Captain America, The Avengers) in The Red Sea Diving Resort

Inspired by one of the most remarkable true life rescue missions ever, The Red Sea Diving Resort is the incredible story of a group of international agents and brave Ethiopians who in the early 80s used a deserted holiday retreat in Sudan as a front to smuggle thousands of refugees to Israel. Chris Evans plays Ari Levinson, the Mossad agent who leads the mission together with courageous local Kabede Bimro, played by Michael Kenneth Williams. Posed as naive European entrepreneurs, the team he leads take advantage of the Sudanese government's interest in expanding its feeble Ministry of Tourism to purchase a strategically located property along the Red Sea. Their plans are thrown for a loop, however, when real tourists begin arriving, expecting service. Director Gideon Raff-creator of the acclaimed Israeli series Prisoners of War and an executive producer of its American spin-off, Homeland-brings his signature pacing to the pulse- elevating scenes of intrigue, finding opportunities along the way to fill the mise-en-scene (from Mossad office headquarters to the kitschy scuba hotel) with sly references to the culture, politics, and distinctive aesthetics of its late '70s-early '80s setting. Finding more humor and adventure in the story than one would imagine possible given the high stakes of the drama, what resonates most strongly throughout The Red Sea Diving Resort is an indistinguishable pride in the sense of fraternity (the name of the Mossad's original mission was "Operation Brothers") between the Israeli and Ethiopian Jews, and the resourcefulness and bravery that bonds them together. The prestigious cast also includes Haley Bennett, Alessandro Nivola, Michiel Huisman, Chris Chalk, Greg Kinnear and Ben Kingsley. -Tien-Tien L. Jong 

closing night reception
Sunday, July 28 | following screening
Castro Theatre Mezzanine, San Francisco
$22 Members | $25 General Public

Join SFJFF39 in signing off on another engaging run a the iconic Castro Theatre! Following the riveting closing night film, SFJFF invites you to the mezanine to partake in an assortment of food and drink provided by La Méditerranée as we transition the festival to the East Bay and San Rafael.

Director Gideon Raff in person

Guest Daniel Sahalo who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia when he was five years old as part of Operation Moses

Director Gideon Raff

Emmy award winning writer and director Gideon Raff is the creator of the Israeli series PRISONERS OF WAR ("Hatufim"), the highest-rated drama series in Israel which also won nine Israeli Emmy® Awards, including Best Directing for Raff and Best Drama Series. PRISONER OF WAR's American adaptation, HOMELAND starring Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin is going into its 8th season. For his work on Homeland, Raff has received two Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, a WGA Award, an Edgar Allen Poe Award® and a Peabody Award. Following Homeland, Raff created the FX drama series TYRANT, and co-created, wrote and directed DIG an event series starring Jason Isaacs and Anne Heche for USA. 

Currently, Raff finished shooting THE SPY, his 6 episode miniseries based on the life of Eli Cohen. Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, THE SPY will debut in the fall on Netflix. Raff wrote and directed all 6 episodes.

Director Statement | We live in a world where dozens, sometimes hundreds of people a week drown in the Mediterranean seeking a better future for themselves and their families. They are willing to take the risk of not making it just so that their children have a shred of hope for a better tomorrow. These are not statistics, these are human beings with names and family members and loved ones.

This was what was on my mind when I heard about this amazing true story that inspired "The Red Sea Diving Resort." I grew up in Israel, a country that is the home of immigrants from all over the world - Moroccans, Iraqis, Yemenites, Europeans, Arabs, all living together. The story of the Ethiopian Jewry is one that I was always fascinated by. This is a group of people who were living under harsh conditions, always needing to hide their true religion from the authority, always looked at as the other, the strangers, unwelcome in Ethiopia. When the Ethiopian community leaders decided it was time to leave Ethiopia and make their way to Israel, they reached out to their brothers in Israel and that "call to duty" was answered. Together with Ethiopian community leaders like Baruch Tegene and Ferede Aklum (the inspirations for the Michael K Williams character) a group of Mossad agents, all former refugees themselves, left their cozy lives in Israel in order to help their brothers.

This was a very unique mission, one that was only declassified a few years ago, and with everything that is happening to refugees around the world today, I thought it was timely and more relevant than ever. The Ethiopian Jews bravely left their homes, risking their lives, making their way north to Sudan from which they were hoping to find a way to the promised land. Sudan was (still is) an enemy state to Israel and so the operation was a very dangerous one.

The Ethiopian community was as active as the Mossad in rescuing their community, they were true partners in this operation and they are the real heroes of this story. This is why it was also very important for me to cast actors from the Ethiopian community in the movie, these are not just incredible actors who are participating in a movie, these are people telling the story of their lives.

The Mossad agents operating in Sudan needed a cover for being in country for as long as the operation lasted, and that's how the crazy idea of leasing and operating a hotel on the coast of the Red Sea was hatched. Israel had to send operatives that had more than one nationality, people who can "pass" as non Israeli, people who were fluent in other cultures and languages, and indeed the agents that were sent could pass as German, South American, Australian, Maltese...

Nothing could point to them being Israeli or Jewish. In Sudan they were not allowed to speak Hebrew, only English. Dani Limor, an immigrant from Uruguay was the first commander of this operation, he recruited a team of international agents and they flew to Sudan armed with fake identities. Dani is one of the inspirations for the Character played by Chris Evans.

Israel was founded on the ideal of being a shelter to any Jew who needs it. Dani and his team put their lives on the line to help their brothers and sisters. It didn't matter to them that the Ethiopians looked different than them, spoke different languages, had different lifestyles, all that mattered to them was coming together in order to help.

That's what this movie is about, and that's the uplifting message I hope people get from it when watching. This is the story of a family, long separated, coming together, an example of how much better the world is when people reach out a helping hand. Sadly, current events remind us there is still a long way to go.

Note: Contains Graphic Violence 

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