Expansive Paris-based media group Mediawan has picked up international sales rights to the Jerusalem-set ultra-orthodox drama “The Rabbi,” which participates in this year’s Series Mania Forum at its Co-Pro Pitching Sessions.
Abuses of power aren’t unique to any one nationality, gender, sexual orientation or religion. With “The Rabbi,” celebrated filmmaker Eytan Fox proposes a fictionalized drama inspired by a true story which shocked Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community that proves that such abuses can happen almost anywhere.
“The Rabbi” turns on a powerful and well-known university professor from Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox community who uses his position to influence his male students into physical relationships. Although the students are all in their 20s and the relationships consensual, there is uproar when the truth comes out, both regarding the Rabbi engaging in relationships with his subordinates and the fact that this superstar clergyman is a closeted gay man.
Stylistically and thematically, the series will look to capitalize on the wave of popularity in the ultra-orthodox community kicked off by series such as “Shtisel” and “Unorthodox,” while examining current global trends such as the #MeToo movement.
Series creator Fox will also direct, with Eli Bijaoui as lead writer, Gal Uchovsky, Micky Rbinovitz and Moshe Edery as producers and Ami Glam as executive producer. Companies involved include Light Stream, Mazeh Productions and United King Films, with Mediawan handling sales and distribution.
“We created a story about a man and his fall from grace,” producer Uchovsky explained to Variety ahead of the series’ Co-Pro Pitching session. “He’s not just an obvious villain you hate immediately. He’s not a mean person with smoke coming from his ears. It’s a story about denial from within a very conservative community that doesn’t seek to resolve its problems and inadvertently creates more of them.”
“In another day and age he could have come out of the closet and been a happy gay man, a good teacher and have a husband instead of sleeping with his students, but that’s not really the case in this story or this society,” Uchovsky added.
Designed as a single season mini-series running six hours, “The Rabbi” already has its lead attached in award-winning actor Lior Ashkenazi, one of the hardest working men in Israeli film and TV over the past quarter-century with major roles in productions such as International Feature Oscar-nominee “Footnote,” Cannes standout “Big Bad Wolves” and, most recently, HBO Max’s original series “Valley of Tears.”
Series creator Eytan Fox is one of Israel’s leading directors whose work has featured at major festivals like Berlin (“The Bubble”) and Tribeca (“Yossi & Jagger,” “Yossi”) as well as earning local Academy Award nominations in Israel and France (“Walk on Water”). His most recent production, “Sublet” starring Tony Award-winning and Emmy-nominated John Benjamin Hickey, premiered at Tribeca in 2020 and went on to receive rave reviews.