Santa Monica-based Stone Canyon Entertainment has announced the start of production on Who Are the Marcuses?, its feature documentary about a mysterious couple whose half a billion-dollar gift imagines regional conflict resolution in Israel and peace through water. Matthew Mishory (Absent, No Place of Exile) is directing. Stone Canyon’s Bradford Schlei (Swingers, Spun) and Alvaro Fernandez are producing, with executive producers Marc Bennett (The Tattooed Torah, Shared Legacies) and Rhino Films’ Stephen Nemeth (Dogtown and the Z Boys, Climate Refugees, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). Filming will begin in Israel and Austin, Texas in the first quarter of 2021.
Structured like a mystery, the film pieces together the lives of Holocaust refugees Lottie and Howard Marcus, an unassuming couple from Great Neck, New York, who lived the final decades of their lives in a modest two-bedroom apartment in San Diego, California. Howard, a retired dentist, died in 2014 at age 104. Lottie died less than two years later at age 99. Shortly thereafter, the largest charitable gift in the history of the State of Israel was publicly announced. The Marcuses gave over half a billion dollars to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Who were these virtually unknown philanthropists who had never publicly revealed their wealth or intentions? How did they accumulate so much wealth by getting in on the early days of the greatest financial services empire ever built? What compelled them to give it all away? And why were the Marcuses so captivated by the issue of water scarcity and an innovative university in the Israeli desert?
“The Marcus story is an astounding combination of both the American dream and the Zionist vision,” says Prof. Daniel Chamovitz, president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. “By investing their nest egg and turning it into the most significant philanthropic gift ever made to Israel and our university, this generous family enabled David Ben-Gurion’s vision for the future of Israel, which he declared will ‘emerge from the Negev’.”
This is Matthew Mishory’s fifth imaginative exploration of notable lives of the 20th century. It follows films about artist Derek Jarman, actor James Dean, musician Artur Schnabel, and purged Russian composer Alexander Mosolov.
Who Are the Marcuses? will be lensed by his longtime collaborator Michael Marius Pessah (Joshua Tree, 1951; Smiley Face Killers), with an original score by legendary Israeli guitarist/singer David Broza and a script co-written by Golan Friedman. The film is slated for a 2022 release
“What could be more compelling than a mystery story that explores our generation’s most timely issues: climate change and wealth accumulation? This is that story,” says Stone Canyon’s Schlei. “I was big fan of Matthew’s previous films and am thrilled to be working with him on this one.”
“The Marcuses were humble visionaries, who saw the importance of water research not only as vital to Israel’s self-sufficiency but as a strategy to achieve peace through shared natural resources,” says Doug Seserman, chief executive officer of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in New York. “Their transformative generosity will be felt for generations to come.”
Wealth accumulation and philanthropy have exploded into the public consciousness in the years since the Marcuses’ gift. The Giving Pledge, created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet, is one such example: an open invitation for billionaires, or those who would be if not for their giving, to publicly commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. It is inspired by the example set by millions of people at all income levels who give generously – and often at great personal sacrifice – to make the world better. Today, the Giving Pledge includes more than 200 of the world’s wealthiest individuals, couples, and families, ranging in age from their 30s to their 90s. Pledgers include Elon Musk, Ted Turner, Mark Zuckerberg & Priscilla Chan, Barron Hilton, Larry Ellison, Charles Bronfman, Michael Bloomberg, and Paul Allen
Stone Canyon Entertainment is a development, production, and financing company based in Santa Monica, CA, whose most recent feature was The Trust, starring Elijah Wood.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) was inspired by the vision of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who believed that the future of Israel lay in the Negev region, a desert area comprising more than 60 percent of the country. With some 20,000 students and campuses in Beer-Sheva, Sede Boqer and Eilat, BGU is an oasis of innovation, leading research in cyber security, desert studies, climate change, medicine, Israel studies, and more.