Keshet International preps Israel shoot for Leonard Cohen drama Who by Fire

Ex-VIS UK exec Jill Offman and Shtisel creator Yehonatan Indursky team up for adaptation of Matti Friedman book

By Tim Dams 29 Nov 2022

Keshet International preps Israel shoot for Leonard Cohen drama Who by Fire
Who by Fire: Leonard Cohen at the front. Credit: Isaac Shokal

Keshet International is teaming up with VIS UK chief Jill Offman and the creator of hit series Shtisel for Leonard Cohen drama Who by Fire.

The six-part limited series is based on journalist Matti Friedman’s 2022 book of the same name, which charts the iconic singer-songwriter’s self-motivated and impromptu concert tour on the front line of the 1973 Yom Kippur War in Israel.  

It is the first project to emerge from Offman’s nascent outfit Sixty-Six Media and is the culmination a months-long journey to secure the rights to Friedman’s book. 

Yehonatan Indursky (Shtisel, Autonomies) will write the English and Hebrew-language series, which will be shot in Israel in 2024, with Offman exec producing alongside Keshet International’s Atar Dekel, head of global drama and co-productions, and Keshet Broadcasting’s Yuval Horowitz. 

“I’d heard that there was a book being written about a trip Leonard Cohen took to the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and that’s all I needed to hear,” Offman told sister site, Broadcast on Friday.  

“The book hadn’t been finished yet, and I had a back and forth with Matti, his publisher Random House, and his agent to convince them of my intent to make the drama happen.” 

The book opens with Cohen at 39, famous but at a creative dead-end, living on the Greek island of Hydra. Upon hearing a story about the Yom Kippur War on the radio, he decides to travel to the Sinai desert and embed himself with the Israeli fighters. Moving around the front line with a guitar and a pick-up team of local musicians, he knows that his music may be the last things these young men ever hear.  

The tour spawned the album New Skin for the Old Ceremony, which Offman says is, in many ways, “an audio version of a biography”. 

Offman’s conviction that a drama about “an artist having a crisis meets country in crisis”, would be more compelling than a factual account of the event is helped by the fact that “there’s no footage of it, so it wouldn’t make a great doc”. 

She said: “But beyond that, there is a lot to mine dramatically from the events. There is this idea that sometimes an artist explores something and he doesn’t even understand why he’s doing so. That is part of the mystery of our show.  

“It’s almost an emotional thriller. He’s a pacifist, an atheist, an ambivalent Jew who does not love the community he’s come from. Why is he there? Why does this mean anything to him, what is he escaping by travelling out there?  

“There’s a fair amount of delving in between the cracks that needs to be done to bring this out. It’s naturally dramatic.” 

The series will air on commercial broadcaster Keshet 12 in Israel. 

Horowitz said: “We have wanted to work with Yehonatan for a long time and Matti’s phenomenal piece is a perfect project for us all to collaborate on. I am curious to discover through Yehonatan’s retelling of actual events what brought Leonard Cohen to Israel at the height of the war. 

“Who by Fire reinforces our commitment here at Keshet to bring new Israeli stories to screen in Israel first, before sharing them with the rest of the world.”  

This article originally appeared on KFTVs sister site, Broadcast.

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