Three Israeli filmmakers have been arrested and detained in Nigeria during a shoot for their documentary “We Were Never Lost,” about Jewish tribes on the African continent.
Activist and Columbia University graduate Rudy Rochman, director Noam Leibman and French-Israeli journalist Edouard Benaym flew from Israel to Nigeria on July 6, according to reports. They were detained the following Friday at a synagogue belonging to the Igbo tribe.
The trio, who are currently crowdfunding the project via RaiseGiving.com, said on their website that “We Were Never Lost” is meant to be a “heartfelt tribute to an ancient people yearning for inclusion.” The team promised to “examine the claims, history, stories, struggles and aspirations of the Jewish/Israelite tribes of Africa.”
The documentary has already raised $106,808 from 411 donors and is looking to raise a total $613,000.
“Our adventure will span borders and boundaries from Uganda, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, to Ethiopia and beyond,” the website continued. “Their Judaism is considered dubious by some, and misunderstood by most, so we’ll examine what it means to be a Jew/Israelite and how exactly they descended from this ancient people.”
According to The Times of Israel, the men were shooting in a “separatist region in southeast Nigeria” when they were arrested on suspicion of coming into contact with Biafran separatists.
On July 8, the filmmakers posted on social media saying that “[they] do not take any position on political movements as [they] are not here as politicians nor as a part of any governmental delegations.” This is believed to be a tacit acknowledgement of the sensitivity of filming in the Nigerian Igbo community due to the country’s internal politics.
The documentary is produced by Canada-based producer Jonny Pottins. Pottins did not reply to Variety by publication time.
The Israeli foreign ministry is aware of the situation.