Sanderson Seeks Venue For Bomb Victims’ Tales

Oct 27, 2003  •  Post A Comment

A woman in Jerusalem is standing at a bus stop when a terrorist detonates a suicide bomb. The woman’s mother and vivacious 5-year-old daughter are killed before her eyes, and she is severely injured.
Five young boys are traumatized by the memory of their father’s death in what is recalled as the Passover Massacre of 2002. Months later the youngest boy, not yet 8, still suffers extreme trauma.
A 22-year-old woman, an aspiring dancer, is eating pizza with her best friend on a busy shopping street when a suicide bomber blows himself up. Her friend dies and she loses her legs.
These tragic stories are among those related in a heart-wrenching and well-crafted documentary called “No Safe Place: Six Lives Forever Changed,” produced by Jay Sanderson, CEO of the L.A.-based Jewish Television Network.
“It struck me after I had been reading all the coverage in The New York Times about the victims of 9/11 that I hadn’t really heard too many stories about the people who, in the course of living in Israel, suddenly had their lives totally destroyed by suicide bombers,” Mr. Sanderson recalled. “So I went to Israel and saw that even the media there didn’t do anything other than a sound bite when an incident happened. And in the American media, where there have been lots of projects done on the Palestinian side, there was nothing, zero, done on the reality of these average citizens dealing with suicide bombers.”
The one-hour documentary, shot on a minuscule $150,000 budget with digital video cameras, does not contain any political rhetoric or propaganda. There are no arguments about issues, mentions of causes or calls for revenge. It doesn’t even focus on the devastating impact fear created by terrorism is having on Israel’s economy and society.
“This isn’t about the conflict,” said Mr. Sanderson. “It’s about people whose lives have been disrupted by terrorism. These are human stories.
“It’s not about whether the Green Line [separating Israel proper from its territories] should exist. It’s different. That’s the point,” he said. “These stories have value, just like the 9/11 stories have value. To say this doesn’t have an audience because somebody did something about the conflict in the past is to demean the lives of these victims.
“The reason we made it in the first place was to tell their stories.”
That is the basis for a different kind of tragedy. There is no assurance “No Safe Place” will ever be seen by a wide audience on television, as was intended. Since it was completed, it has been submitted to a number of broadcast and cable outlets. “I’m still out there. I’m still trying to get someone to do it,” Mr. Sanderson said. “But everyone has basically said the same thing, which is unless we shoot the other side, or something analogous, [they] won’t air it.”
The fact is there are no Jewish suicide bombers, so there is no equivalent other side. There is an Israeli army, which operates openly, and there have been lives altered on both sides; but this documentary isn’t about any of that. Over the past months, Mr. Sanderson has heard a litany of reasons as one network after another passed. Some said they feel they have already aired a lot on the subject. And others, as a spokesperson for the History Channel explained, declined because they see it as too contemporary, and not part of history.
That kind of resistance frustrates and infuriates Kelsey Grammer, the star of “Frasier,” who donated his time and talents as the narrator of “No Safe Place.”
“It’s political correctness run amok,” said Mr. Grammer. “I do believe that within the media there is a little too much obsession with appearing to be politically correct, and not taking sides. But of course by doing that, they are taking sides. So that is an unfortunate mishap, I think.”
“There is a certain amount of political correctness that people feel,” agreed Mr. Sanderson. “I believe HBO would rather do a documentary on two elderly lesbian Jews who leave their husbands and live as outwardly gay women. They’re happy to push the envelope when it comes to sexuality or a lot of other issues, but people are unwilling to push the envelope when it comes to these kinds of human crises.”
A spokesman for HBO said that as a matter of policy the network doesn’t comment on why it chooses not to license a certain documentary.
Mr. Sanderson, however, believes he knows the answer, and it isn’t exclusive to HBO. “Israel has become a difficult subject for Jews and non-Jews to deal with right now,” he said. “Anything sympathetic to Israel makes them uncomfortable. Israel has gone from being David to being Goliath. But these people are not soldiers. They are not in this. They are just living.”
Mr. Grammer is not Jewish and has no history as an activist for Israel. He said that after he reviewed the material in “No Safe Place,” he just felt “there was a problem and it was worth lending my name to and my voice to.”
Asked what he would say to network executives considering the project if he were sitting across the desk, Mr. Grammer didn’t hesitate for a second: “I would say, `Take your head out of your ass and put this on the air because people need to know about it.”’
Then with a nervous laugh, he asked, “Is that quotable enough?”
“I am reduced to a lack of convincing arguments at this point,” Mr. Grammer added, “because I am just devastated by the idea that these people can’t find a reason to put this show on. It seems extraordinary.”
At a time when the United States is losing soldiers and civilian workers to suicide bombers in Afghanistan and Iraq, and terrorists around the world are increasingly turning to suicide bombing, the title of this documentary is uncomfortably universal. “No Safe Place” will be seen at some film festivals and eventually may be offered through home video, but if it fails to find wider TV distribution, it will just compound the tragedies suffered by these victims, even as new tragedies continue to unfold around the globe.