With its 6 Emmy Awards and its 2 Golden Globe Awards in its prize-list, Homeland stands as the hit of 2012.
Praised to the skies by critics and followed by a record audience (including among it President Obama!),
the new series has made the headlines, revealing some secrets about its foreign origins…
Yet, who could be able to guess that behind this series 100% marked by American spirit, an Israeli television production was hidden? Known as Hatufim, the domestic series was certainly successful in its home country but could its creator, Gideon Raff, ever have imagined that his baby would become, between the hands of Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa (authors of 24′) such a bomb? Nothing could be farther from the truth!
At the origins: Israeli version
Hatufim, is the story of three Israeli war prisoners who are released seventeen years after their incarceration in Lebanon. Two of them, Nimrod Klein and Uri Zach, come back alive while the third one, Amiel Ben-Horin, returns in a coffin. The series tackles the destiny of prisoners of war after returning to their home country, a taboo subject in Israel.
“I realized that all the rare stories about prisoners of war ended up with their return (…); in Israel, people only want to see the “happy end”, they do not want to see how prisoners of war get through their traumatize after their freeing”1 confessed the series’ creator Gideon Raff.
Hatufim breaks this silence, Nimrod Klein and Uri Zac are the survivors’ spokespersons. Through their voices, Gideon Raff allows real prisoners of war to confess and move on. Behind the fiction, there are real testimonies “When I was prisoner, without seeing nobody for days, I felt so lonely and abandoned that I was relieved when someone came to torture me”2. This is perhaps what explains the controversy when the series came out. In Israel, everyone has a relative engaged in the army thus Israeli people feel concerned by Hatufim, it is a nation’s story as the one of Gilad Shalit. The young Israeli-French soldier held by Hamas militant during five years has devastated international mass media when he was released in exchange of the freeing of 447 Palestinian prisoners. Now, nobody knows what he became. He has been left with his trauma and culpability. Hatifum tries to put the Israel nation in front of its deny, showing that the “happy end”of the POW’s returning hides a taboo. It is hardly conceivable that a subject so specific to the Israeli society has been adapted for the United-States… And yet, from Hatufim, the new successful American series Homeland was born.
“When I was writing Hatufim, I was saying to myself that it could work with an American soldier, but I wanted first the series to be Israeli, with the debates that it will necessary implicate”3; admitted Gideon Raff.
Nevertheless the work to adapt it remained quite challenging.
From Hatufim to Homeland
Hatufim ended up in good hands, the ones of Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, executive producers of 24’.With the contribution of Gideon Raff, they changed the story a lot. This way, the three Israeli prisoners became one U.S marine, Nicholas Brody, held by al-Qaeda. He is also freed and after his heroes returning, he is suspected by Carrie Mathison, a CIA agent, to be “turned” by the enemy. This agent suffers from bipolar disorder and is convinced that Brody represents a threat for the United-State. Thus, she is determined to prove that he is linked to al-Qaeda’ network.
In contrast to the Israeli version based on the psychological and familial aspect, the American producers have chosen to put the emphasis on the suspense and the post 9/11 trauma. Homeland embodies the psychosis the United-States is suffering after the attack. Just like Hatufim delivers the Israel nation’ prisoners from war pain, Homeland exorcises in a way the paranoia of the American nation. Both are very political. Hatufim, wich means abductees, questions the government and military roles in managing the liberation of the prisoners of wars. The Israeli one, privileges emotions generated by national mourning. Hatufim is filmed as a natural study, it is slow and quiet. This contemplative approach allows a correctness in drawing the relationships between the characters. The relationships appear more plausible than in Homeland. Nonetheless, the minimalist budget has not allowed Hatufim to escap from over-dated conventional TV storytelling methods like the use of fake news report and commercial music.
“The Homeland pilot cost as much as two Hatufim seasons!”4 said Gideon Raff in his defence.
Inevitably, it must imply some sacrifices in the shooting, as well, the comparison is not really fair. As for Homeland, it is glossier as an American series has to be, with a casting which leaves nothing to chance. Starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, the series gains in respectability and is even rewarded with the Golden Award of best actress. On Hatufim side, the actors are less known and glamorous. They are in counter part more realistic and it goes with the natural style of the series. Gideon Raff gives even more authenticity to his series thanks to real testimonies. There is a wish to be close to the real. The Israeli production remains far from the American “bigger than life” style5. Homeland fits perfectly in, being more about fantasise the real through paranoia.
Are Hatufim and Homeland mirrors of their own nationalist thoughts? Critical views
Hatufim and Homeland reflect at the same time differences between Israeli and American series’ industry and the cultural particularities and point of views proper to each country. Only, at which point a culture can be expressed in a series without turning into a nationalist production with preconceptions?
Homeland, for example, is taking risks in its opening credits by linking terrorism with Islams with a close-up on women wearing a burqua6. Likely, an episode of the new season has been hardly criticized in recent articles for having stereotyped and tarnished the Lebanon’s image. Named “Beirut is back”, this episode has revolted Faddy Abboud, the tourism Minister of Lebanon:
“It was not filmed in Beirut and does not portray the real image of Beirut. It showed Hamra Street with militia roaming in it whereas this street is a popular neighbourhood of shops and cafes. This kind of film damages the image of Lebanon – it is not fair to us and it is not true”7.
Despite, Homeland just remains a fiction; American producers film this part of the world in a positioned way which can influence the mentalities once broadcasted.
“An episode like this, watched by millions of viewers destroyed month of efforts!”8, adds the Lebanese tourism Minister.
Hatufim has also been discussed in a different way. Some Isreali people have reproached to Gideon Raff of taking advantage of the country’s anguish over the captive soldier Gilad Shalit. The producer promptly denies this assumption:
“It would have been presumptuous to think that I’d do a series to help rescue Gilad Shalit”9.
Success & impact
Good or bad critics, what really matters is the fact that they are well-watched and can have repercussions on their society.
“We are not there to preach but to put in light what it is hidden and provoke a personal questioning in viewers”10, confesses Gideon Raff.
Anyway, Hatufim gives birth to an American blockbuster broadcasted in more than 34 countries, allowing the American production to arouse the world with a certain American spirit. By surpassing the Israeli original series, American producers demonstrated that they still the Masters in this television genre. Despite, Hatufim made its first steps in the big boys world being translated and exported in almost 10 countries; no one knows if it would have met the same success without the advertising of Homeland. One thing is for sure: now the world of series’ production is staring at Israel, it is perhaps the new promise land of series…
1 Giorno, S. (2012, September, 23) Ce que “Homeland” doit à “Hatufim”
3 Soesanto, L. (2012, May, 14) Israël, la terre promise des séries
5 Colonna, V. L’Art des séries télé ou comment surpasser les Américains, Paris, Payot & Rivages, 2010.
6 Sérisier, P. (2012, October, 20) Homeland – Le générique sécuritaire et paranoïaque
7 Juliette, R. (2012, October, 24) Homeland Saison 2 : Polémique et colère du ministre du tourisme libanais
9 Pfefferman, N. (2011, October, 31) Gilad Shalit and Israeli TV’s Seraing ‘Prisoners of War’
10 Soesanto, L. (2012, May, 14) Israël, la terre promise des séries