Maya Zinshtein and Abie Troen, the filmmakers behind ‘Til Kingdom Come, spoke with Solzy at the Movies this week about the film.
‘Til Kingdom Come is going to be one of the most important films you see this year. Where Kings of Capitol Hill focuses on AIPAC, ‘Til Kingdom Come focuses on the strange bedfellows between Christian evangelicals and Israelis. Both films are from Israeli filmmakers and if you ask me, they are required viewing for the entire Jewish community here in the United States of America. There are some sequences in this film where I honestly couldn’t believe my eyes. One is where Pastor Boyd Bingham IV outright says to the camera “There is no such thing as a Palestinian.” Listen, I know that there’s a lot of strong views when it comes to the conflict but this is not a view that will lead anywhere remotely to peace.
‘Til Kingdom Come starts playing in virtual cinemas on Friday.
What was the genesis of Til Kingdom Come?
Maya Zinshtein: I came to the story in summer 2017 when the United States had a new president, President Trump, and it was very clear that he was heavily backed by this community of Christian evangelicals. And also, it was very clear that promises had been given through the campaign about Israel. I understood that probably this bond and these relationships are about to evolve with the upcoming years. But for me in Israel, all this issue of the support of the Christian evangelicals is something that is very little known. I’d e been asked to help on a different project where they were just a small part in it but that kind of drove me to look into this direction. Once I started to read about this, it was just fascinating for me. This relationship hasn’t been explored in a documentary filmmaking level by now. I thought that it should be because it has so much influence for our lives.
How long did it take to get off the ground from development into production?
Maya Zinshtein: I started the research in summer 2017. Abie joined me a few months later. We basically started filming in March 2018 and released the filming two years later. In total, it was three years of a journey with a Christian evangelical.
Were there any points during production when you found yourself uncomfortable?
Maya Zinshtein: Well (Laughs)
Abie Troen: Fairly early, we realized that in order to make this documentary, we would have to be able to be comfortable to be uncomfortable. We would have to enter many interesting spaces politically, theologically. I think it was a great privilege, honestly, to spend—as two Jews from Israel/America—the greater part of the Trump administration, in places from Mar-a-Lago, the White House, rural Appalachia, and settlements in the West Bank. I think was a great opportunity to learn about the fabric of both societies, Israeli and the United States, and the effect that church has on state. But yes, it was quite a whirlwind of a journey. And also, just add about being uncomfortable, the film was edited in New York City and we had to constantly make very harsh cuts between filming in deep red territory to editing in New York. Doing those cuts often was kind of a jolting experience. I think learning how to navigate that was its own learning curve for us—sometimes more uncomfortable than comfortable.
I’m from Kentucky so I’m not too surprised by what I saw. What I found the most troubling is that churches would rather send money to Israel rather than take care of local issues like the Kentucky opioid epidemic. Bell County has one of the worst rates in the country.
Maya Zinshtein: First of all, now I’m curious to know if you think that we tell the story of Kentucky in an accurate way if you’re from there. Yeah, I totally agree with you. I think in that sense—when you go to into these places and you’re asking yourself—we started the journey here in Israel and you can see all this work of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which they’re doing good things and it’s important causes. You ask yourself, but where’s the problem, actually. When you arrive to these places, I think the American poverty looks very different than Israeli poverty if that’s a way to say it. I’m an Israeli person. I’ve never been in these places. But if you’re looking from outside, it can look like a very nice house. But then when you look closely, you’ll understand that this house doesn’t have a door or it doesn’t have windows. When you start to understand the numbers and how poor these people are—I have to say that as an Israeli, I just felt embarrassed. I have nothing else to say.
Every time that Abie and I were traveling there, we were bringing candies from Israel to these kids because really all you want to say, I don’t want to take a penny from this community. It’s important to say this community really helps these kids. It’s not that they’re sending all their money or their tithes to Israel. It’s a small part of it. But still, as an Israeli, I would say, I think we need to be able to help our Holocaust survivors by ourselves and not to be dependent on donations of very nice people. But still, I think this is the moment that I know, for many Israelis, when they watch the film, it will make them feel really uncomfortable.
Abie Troen: Yeah, just a quick kind of clarification about the church. This specific church was not a neighborhood church, it was a regional Community Church. You had both people who have almost no means attending church and you also had some very wealthy people attending the church. The money to Israel—they tithed it. It’s just important to be accurate about that. It’s not like they didn’t help their own, they did. Just a portion of that didn’t go to the church, it just went to Israel.
I found the conversation between Boyd Bingham IV and Munther Isaac to be rather fascinating. But what didn’t surprise me were Bingham’s comments afterwards. I mean, my jaw dropped when I saw that especially when he said, “There’s no such thing as a Palestinian.” How common are these beliefs and what do you make of them?
Maya Zinshtein: When we went to film this scene, I kind of hoped—because again, I really like Pastor Boyd on a personal level. I think he’s a good guy. He has a good heart and he went through a lot. He knows what suffering is. I really hoped on a certain level that he would be able to see the suffering of the Palestinians. But then, when you think on that, the expectation of him to change his mind on based on one meeting when he’s been—I mean, I would say the word indoctrinated because that’s the word that he’s using in the film, and to a very certain worldview, that’s almost naïve to expect of him to do that.
Or as the writer of the film, Mark Monroe, said to me, “Maya, people don’t change in documentaries; they change only in Hollywood films.” I think it’s true. I think it just all came together and we could see at the scene what it actually means—this indoctrination on the ground and where it can bring very nice people with a great heart to be—I don’t like to use the word blind but probably a little bit blind for the suffering of others because it doesn’t fit to their political worldview.
Then there’s the sequence at the end when Pastor William Bingham goes, “you blind stupid Jewish people.” Can you talk about the decision that went into editing that part of the film the way you did?
Maya Zinshtein: He actually says, “This is my message for the viewers or at least for the Jewish part of the viewers.” I really like the fact that this message is said by an evangelical pastor. Yes, I think that on many levels, the Israelis and Jewish people that are accepting this and creating this bond, on many levels, they are blind. It’s not that they are blind; they’re just choosing not to look to a very important part of this bond. I always appreciate when my characters are honest. I thought this is the right statement that I want to say to my audience. I’m happy that he said it.
I know that the film festival circuit hasn’t been the same over the last year. What did you make of the reception for Til Kingdom Come?
Abie Troen: It’s been an adventure, an adventure from our living rooms. Even as I speak to you now, I’m wearing pajama pants. This film means something different to different audiences. If you’re a Jewish audience member, if you’re an evangelical audience member, if you’re an American audience member of the left or right, a Trump supporter or progressive, it gets interpreted differently. This was something that we were keenly aware of while filming, while we did test screenings, post-production, and now in these Q and As. The range of questions we’re asked go from the specifications of what the apocalypse may look like all the way down to what we can anticipate in the 2024 general elections in the United States.
I will say there’s a sadness that we can’t see the film on a big screen. The one screening it was was in IDFA (Amsterdam) in one of the largest venues they have. I think the hall seats several hundreds. It looks like even more—like an opera house. We saw the film on a big screen through a Zoom call. That is the downside. The flip side—the good aspect of this is that Maya and I have been, just over the past two weeks, in Colorado, Florida, Boston, New York, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio, again, all from our living rooms. We are really getting a sense of the pulse of the nation and the sort of buttons that this film pushes for people. It makes them think from their living rooms across the United States to ours. That, as a filmmaker, is kind of a dream come true. This is exactly what we set out to do. To get that kind of engagement and reaction shows that this film is succeeding.
When the opening date was announced, did it ever occur to you that it’s opening on Purim?
Abie Troen: Did it? It did actually. Instead of instead of going out of costume to the street and eating hamentashen, we will sit again in our living rooms and get a virtual theatrical Zoom red carpet. It’s a funny time to be alive and it’s a funny time to celebrate Purim.
What do you want people to take away from viewing Til Kingdom Come?
Maya Zinshtein: I think, for the Israelis, it was really important for me that people will at least know about this bond and be aware of that because all this happens kind of under the surface. For the American audience, I think for the Jewish community, I think it’s extremely important to talk about this because it has a huge influence on the relationship between the Jewish community and the State of Israel. Basically all these relations, all these bonds, 40 years ago, it’s been considered as a dirty secret. And now, it’s just considered as a secret. But I still think it needs to be discussed. For the evangelicals, I really hope that they would be able to watch it as not just as chosen people or people from the holy book but actually to understand that we are here and there’s another nation next to us here, the Palestinians. Somehow we need to live together here now, despite sometimes what is written in the Bible. These are the questions that I hope that people would be able to ask themselves.
Abie Troen: Just briefly, I think if you’re a secular audience member living in the United States and you watch this film, I think it is an important statement about the blurring of the lines of church and state. Faith is not going anywhere. The role that faith plays in the American identity and in the fabric of the American democracy is not going to disappear, not in 2020, not 2024, not into the future. As Americans, how we navigate that and how we reconcile these different aspects of this country is something that needs not to turn a blind eye to—if you said blind stupid Jews not to be blind stupid Americans but actually look it in the eye and try to find a way to navigate it and work with it together.