“No Man’s Land,” “Fauda” and “False Flag” producer Maria Feldman is teaming with “Tel Aviv on Fire” writer-director Sameh Zoabi on a new identity crisis series “Inheritance,” which offers a fresh, comedic take on the Israel-Palestine conflict, breaking new ground for scripted TV.
Created by Zoabi, Alma Ganihar and Leora Kamenetzky, a writer on “Fauda” and co-creator with Feldman on “False Flag,” “Inheritance” is set up at Feldman’s New York-based Masha Productions label, with Feldman and Cliff W. Roberts taking producer credits. The partners have a bible and screenplay for a pilot. Zoabi will direct all episodes.
Zoabi’s TV debut, “Inheritance” asks a weighty question: How far people can change their position on the Palestine-Israeli conflict? But it looks set to do so through light, fast-paced comedy – a combination of thematic weight and lightness of touch at the heart of “Tel Aviv on Fire,” Zoabi’s 2018 breakthrough movie, with which the series looks to share multiple through-lines.
In “Tel Aviv on Fire,” a Cohen Media Group U.S. pick-up of an Indie Sales-sold movie, the real-life Lubna Azabal, who is Belgian-Moroccan, is French star Tala, hired to headline a Palestinian soap opera where she plays a Palestinian spy posing as an Israeli-French restaurant owner. One running gag is that Tala hardly knows Arabic, let alone Hebrew, so talks in English to the show’s protagonist, the soap opera’s lead writer.
In “Inheritance,” identity moves stage center. A dying mother confesses that she’s not a Holocaust survivor married to another Jew but in fact Palestinian. She also bequeaths to her two children her lovely house in Ein Karem, a picturesque village in the Jerusalem hills.
Suddenly, her two children’s lives are turned upside down. Her proudly Zionist daughter – who herself has two daughters, one in the Israeli intelligence service, the other just about to marry a religious Jewish guy – discovers she’s half Arab.
Her son, an Arab who’s spent his whole life in a West Bank refugee camp, his life shaped by occupation, discovers to equal horror that he’s Jewish, since Arabs trace their family via the male line.
But both want to own the house. “These new identities, forced on them as they battle for their mother’s house, sets them on a comical collision course that shatters their lives and destroys everything they once knew,” “Inheritance’s” synopsis runs.
“Identity has always been a very cinematic narrative. We’re always dealing with identity issues no matter what,” Zoabi told Variety.
“But what makes this special is that your identity shapes your rights in this part of the world, maybe how you’re going to live, your families, your very existence. It’s a fight of identity, religious identity, political identity, personal identity – there’s lots of layers to it.”
Since Palestinians don’t speak Hebrew and most Israelis don’t know Arabic, whenever Palestinian and Israeli characters interact they’ll do so in English, which will account for about 50% of dialogues, said Feldman.
“I always wanted to do comedies. They reflect where I come from – Iksal, a Palestinian village,” Zoabi said. “People under siege, politically and socially, from all levels, will always go to comedy to tell their stories. That’s how I grew up, that’s my family, my village; humor is part daily survival.”
He feared that “Tel Aviv on Fire” would draw large criticism for telling the Palestinian-Israeli narrative from such a light, comedic angle. Its success suggested to him that he was on the right track. “So my reaction was: ‘Let’s take this to TV.’”
“After ‘Fauda’ and ‘No Man’s Land,’ I’ve been reading a lot of scripts sent to me about Arabs fighting and Israelis occupying. As a viewer and filmmaker, I felt tired of guns and violence. When Sameh sent me his script, my reaction was, “Oh my God, this is exactly what I’m looking. Humor is the best way to communicate any idea,” said Feldman.
“Inheritance” catches Zoabi on the rise as he is set to serve as executive producer on new series “Dinner at the Center of the Earth” for Sony Pictures Television Studios and Showtime. The show will be helmed by “Homeland” creators Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa.
Feldman’s most recent series, “No Man’s Land,” backed by Hulu and Arte, was recently sold by Fremantle to Starzplay for Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, France, India, Ireland, Italy, Latin America, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, and the U.K.
Zoabi’s “Be Quiet” shared the 2005 Cannes Festival’s Cinefondation Award for best student short. “Tel Aviv on Fire” premiered at 2018 Venice Festival to an upbeat critical reception winning the Horizons Award for lead Kais Nashif.
Feldman co-created both “No Man’s Land” and “False Flag.” Playing Netflix and Hulu respectively, “Fauda” and “False Flag” now rate as two of the best know Israeli TV shows of all time. “False Flag” is now being adapted by Apple TV in the U.S. and will star Uma Thurman.