December 7, 2019

‘King Bibi’ Documents Netanyahu’s Rise to Power

A still from "King Bibi" Photo from YouTube

Benjamin Netanyahu has been the face of Israeli politics for 20 years as prime minister and Likud party chairman. But amid criminal investigations for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and the Likud’s slippage in the last election, Netanyahu’s future is in doubt. He nevertheless remains a fascinating figure, as the documentary “King Bibi” depicts. 

Subtitled “The Life and Performances of Benjamin Netanyahu,” it chronicles his rise to power, his obsession with image and his relationships with the media and President Donald Trump. It will be screened at the Israel Film Festival (IFF) in Los Angeles on Nov. 17 and 23.

“I was fascinated by Netanyahu as a cinematic character. I had a fascination with all his media appearances over the years and I wanted to learn more about him,” filmmaker Dan Shadur told the Journal. Eschewing talking-head interviews, he assembled the film using only archival footage of Netanyahu’s television and public appearances. 

Although he includes Netanyahu’s youth and early adulthood, “It’s not a biopic,”
Shadur said. “I don’t pretend to reveal the true man behind the news or give you all
the biographical details. I went with the archives to tell the story and say something not only about Netanyahu and Israel but also politics and media and the relationship between them.”

In his research, Shadur sought “footage that would be different from what we’re used to seeing of Netanyahu — something that would show him before he became what he is.” Over a four-year period, he gathered material from more than 60 archives in Israel and the United States, totaling hundreds of hours. “One of the things that stood out from the research was … how much Netanyahu was ahead of the times,” he said.

“I don’t believe that art can change your political point of view or should serve as propaganda, but I hope it will make people think about politics, Israel and what  happened to Israel in the last 40 years since Netanyahu appeared 

for the first time.” 

— Dan Shadur


The film draws parallels between Netanyahu and Trump’s handling of the media and direct communication with the public. “Netanyahu thought about things in the ’90s that are prominent today: the idea of attacking the media and making it an antagonist so supporters can relate to it and identify it as an enemy,” Shadur said. “He launched the website for the prime minister’s office to talk directly to the people. He was already thinking about social media 10 years before it existed.”

Asked to predict the outcome of the criminal investigation into Netanyahu’s conduct, Shadur said, “I think it’s going to be hard for him to get away with it completely. In the meantime he’s not letting go. He’s taking the whole political system with him so we haven’t had a government for a year now. He’s the problem. If it was another leader from the right, it would have been resolved by now.”

Not surprisingly, “King Bibi” has received a lot of attention in Israel. “It brought in different crowds: Netanyahu supporters and his opponents who can relate to it, and people from both sides who don’t like the film. It created an interesting discussion,” Shadur said. “For some people, it reassures what a great leader he is, for others it shows the devil at work. I don’t believe that art can change your political point of view or should serve as propaganda, but I hope it will make people think about politics, Israel and what happened to Israel in the last 40 years since Netanyahu appeared for the first time. The film is about Netanyahu, but it’s also about Israel and the radical changes it went through in those decades and Netanyahu is the face of it.”

Shadur confirmed that Netanyahu has seen “King Bibi” and commented publicly. “He said it was an interesting documentary. He fell asleep in the middle, not because the film wasn’t good but because he was very tired. He watched it on a flight to Chad.”

Shadur, the son of Israelis of Polish and Lithuanian heritage, grew up in suburban Tel Aviv in a secular Jewish family. He was a writer and newspaper editor before he enrolled in film school. “It was a great way to tell stories and share a point of view,” he said. “Then I got into documentaries, which combined film and my journalism background.”  His previous film “Before the Revolution” is based on the years his family lived in Iran in the late 1970s. He’s currently shooting a film about Telegrass, an Israeli cannabis delivery app and its Orthodox Jewish founder.

“King Bibi” continues to play the film festival circuit, and it will have a digital release sometime in 2020. Shadur is particularly excited about its inclusion in the IFF. “I love L.A. and I wish I could be there,” he said. “I’m looking forward to hearing about the reaction. I think it’s an important film for American Jews and Americans in general. It talks about a lot of important topics and I hope a lot of people will come to see it.”

“King Bibi” will screen at the Israel Film Festival on Nov. 17 at Laemmle’s Town Center 5 and on Nov. 23 at Laemmle’s Ahrya Fine Arts. Visit the website for showtimes and ticket information.