Reaching for Zion is about everything I believe in, everything that my films are about – tolerance, equality, diversity and what Bob Marley called “One Love” — not just for Jews and Rastafari, but harmony for everyone.
Reaching for Zion is not a political film. It does not go into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or African nationalism in any depth, other than to say that all people need a home where they can live in harmony. When Bob Marley sang about returning to Zion from Babylon, he was singing about this need that his people and all people share. But he was also referring to Zion in the transcendental sense—an enlightened state where peace exists permanently—where One Love exists.
The film begins with the Rastafari, shows their interconnection with Jewish beliefs, and expands in the end to every people.
The content is serious, but we have a lot of fun telling the story. Our main character Donisha is beautiful inside and out and very much like her grandfather. People are drawn to her, because of her heritage, of course, but also because she carries his charisma and power to inspire. She is a wonderful main character and I am honoured that she committed so eagerly to this journey. We come form different worlds and her perspective and mine combine to make a wider, greater whole.
I worked with Abbey Neidik, my production partner and husband. We have been at this for thirty year and seem to make a pretty good team. I love the out of the box fresh angle Abbey always brings to his images, how fearless and how attuned he is to expressing what is being said, often in surprising ways.
I have long wanted to make a film about music and Reaching for Zion is pulsating with Bob Marley’s songs about Zion, Exodus and freedom and other ancient and contemporary music: reggae, Israeli, and Ethiopian.
The film was shot in four countries – Canada, the US, Jamaica and Israel. We tried to capture the colour and the essence of each one.
I have been researching this film for years and living it all my life. I am a child of Survivors. My father was liberated from Dachau and my mother from Magdeburg. The rest of my family was killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust. At the beginning of my career, I made a documentary called Dark Lullabies, about the effects of the Holocaust on the next generation. It was very successful internationally.
My parents’ history and their humanitarian philosophy despite the Holocaust made me profoundly committed to fighting all kinds of intolerance. I was a Civil Rights activist and was suspended from the University of Illinois my first year, when I left school in support of Martin Luther King Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery.
I am also a great admirer of Bob Marley and his message. I have been fascinated by the relationship between the Rastafari and the Jews and have long wanted to do a film about the interconnectedness of our history and worldview.
During production I worked closely and creatively with my key team members: cinematographer Abbey Neidik; soundman, Toben Neidik; co-writer Maurie Alioff; editor Martin Nault and out main character Donisha Prendergast.
This is a film about the universal longing for home – for harmony. It is about reaching a place where we can all be free to be ourselves and transcend divisions like white, black, red, yellow; like Palestinian, Israeli, Ethiopian, Canadian; or like Muslim, Rastafari, Christian, and Jew.