BERLIN — The murder trial of celebrity photographer Philippe Halsman, whose photos regularly graced the covers of Life magazine from the 1940s through the 1970s, is the focus of Lilly Berger’s first film, “Jump,” which premiered at the European Film Market Wednesday.
Helmed and penned by Austrian-based American writer/director Joshua Sinclair and starring Patrick Swayze and Ben Silverstone, the pic is the first ever privately financed English-language Austrian production.
Set in 1928 Austria during the rise of fascism, pic recounts the mysterious death of Halsman’s father while on a hiking trip in the Alps with his son and the arrest of the Latvian-born Halsman (played by Silverstone) for the crime.
As a Jew and an outsider, Halsman faced anti-Semitic hostility and was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Swayze plays Halsman’s defense attorney.
“He was the first victim of the anti-Semitism of the growing National Socialist movement,” Berger said.
Halsman was eventually released after Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Thomas Mann rallied to his cause. On the condition that he never return to Austria, he was granted a pardon and freed, but remained forever stigmatized.
Halsman eventually moved to New York, where his iconic photos of famous personalities — often jumping or in mid-air — sealed his fame.
Halsman has more Life covers to his credit than any other photographer.
“This film tries to present a definitive account of what happened and I hope it helps to rehabilitate Philippe Halsman’s name once and for all,” said Berger, who once worked for former media tycoon Leo Kirch.
As a first-time producer, Berger’s bid for Austrian film subsidies was rejected, but she nevertheless managed to finance the film through a private investor, bank credit and her own wallet.