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Full Circle

Created on 12/4/2008

Full Circle is a film that tells the poignant tale of a son and his unrelenting investigation to find his lost father and 68 fellow submariners. “The Men of the INS Dakar – Never Forgotten”.

This is what they call a passion project, a film that has no right to exist, and should have stopped production a thousand times. It has taken me more than 8 years to make, which is much longer than films I made that were much bigger and more complex on the surface. How could a little feature length documentary be harder to make than other, much bigger films I had a role in producing like, “Gold” or “Shout at the Devil” or “The Kids are Alright?”

It’s a film about Jewish people that’s how! We Jews are, as a group, difficult, stiff necked and opinionated, and I include myself in this description, and that results in some very interesting moments along the filmmaking path. But now I am back full time in film producing I want to make films that show Jewish people as heroes, as fellow human beings, without the need for us to be caricatures or apologists for our very existence. Perhaps this could best be described as a Jewish response to the Victorian concept of muscular Christianity. I have long thought that Jews use our successes as a defense mechanism rather than as a positive example of our abilities and humanity. I intend to do my bit to change this, whilst still making entertaining films, being careful to make sure that the message is sublimated in exciting and interesting plots.

In 1968, submariner Dan Manor was lost at sea with 68 fellow submariners. Dan was returning home to Israel aboard the INS Dakar to see his newborn son Arnon, when tragedy struck. Midway across the Mediterranean, communication was lost, and a year later the Dakar’s emergency buoy washed up on the Egyptian coastline. The crew were no longer missing, but lost at sea.

We follow Arnon’s emotional, compulsive journey from London, to LA to Cyprus to Israel and then to sea. Always driven to answer questions, to close the circle. We accompany the families of the lost crew, the deep-water salvage adventure that finally returns the Dakar with her tragic history back to Israel.

The film was produced in Israel, at sea, in the USA, the UK and Cyprus. Several hundred hours of material were filmed and we the cooperation of a huge number of people was essential; most especially some very wonderful folks at the Israel Navy, their Defence Ministry, the Israel Consulate in New York and the Royal Naval Museum in Gosport and last, but certainly not least the men and women of the fantastic salvage company crew, from the Nauticos Corporation.

Whenever Arnon and I have crossed swords, and that is not an altogether unique occurrence and I threaten to quit he or I remind ourselves that we are not making this film for us, but for the men who will never get to see it, the lost sailors of the Israel navy.

The INS Dakar was originally named the HMS Totem, a World War II “T-class” submarine. In 1945 the Cowichan Tribe in Canada presented the submarine with a totem pole. As long as the small totem sailed with her, it was said she would come to no harm. In 1967, the HMS Totem was sold to the Israeli Navy, refurbished and renamed Dakar. Part of the process was to remove the totem pole.

The 9 January 1968 saw the Dakar sail its maiden voyage to Haifa via Gibraltar. Throughout transit, Dakar regularly transmitted her position to HQ - until communications suddenly and inexplicably ceased. On 27 January, a Cypriot radio station received a distress call on the frequency of Dakar’s emergency buoy. No further traces of the submarine were communicated.

The submarine’s disappearance fuelled rumors and theories surrounding the whereabouts of the crew and craft. It was believed that some of the submariners aboard were alive but being held in secret captivity based at a Russian gulag. Other theories suggested that the Dakar was attacked and sunk by Israel’s enemies. There were even rumours of mutiny, American revenge for the loss of their spy ship, the Liberty during the Six Day War, or had it been something more prosaic?

Throughout a more than thirty-year period, numerous search missions were launched extensively searching different parts of the Mediterranean. On 9 February 1969, a year after the Dakar disappeared, a fisherman found her stern emergency buoy marker washed up on the coast of Khan Yunis, a town southwest of Gaza. As a result, experts believed that the Dakar was 50-70 nautical miles off her planned route. This deduction was unfortunately inaccurate, and misled searchers for decades.

It was not until April 1999 that a search effort was concentrated along the path of the original route once Rear Admiral Gideon Raz was appointed as head of the new committee.

In May 1999, Admiral Raz hired Nauticos Corporation – the very same company who found and filmed the Titanic. Using advanced technology and a highly qualified team of forensic, salvage, and operations experts. Suddenly, dramatically, they located the Dakar in the Mediterranean Sea. She was found at a depth of 10,000 feet. In October 2000, using the latest technology the Dakar’s bridge and conning tower were successfully raised out of the deep blue sea and delivered home to her originally intended destination at her home naval base in Haifa. Now the Dakar is proudly on display and forms part of a tribute to her crew.

Dakar is a familiar word for Israelis – a large number of cities and towns have a Dakar Street, and several schools and other public institutions are also named in memory of the submarine. On Mount Herzel in Jerusalem, within Israel's national and military cemetery, there is a monument to the Dakar and her crew. Sixty-nine names are engraved on a submarine-like tomb. Dan Manor’s name is one of them.

Every year, on the Hebrew date, 7th of Adar, Israel mourns and remembers her missing soldiers, airmen and sailors. Among those who will always be remembered are Dakar's sixty-nine men.

Full Circle was graced with the expertise of many talented and professional individuals. Leading the team and maintaining the documentary’s unique vision was key throughout the seven-year production process and remaining focused with teams in four different countries was no minor feat. We brought together the key elements of the why, when and where surrounding this tale. Similarly, our interviewees were crucial in the piecing together of the events as well as providing an essential view perspective of the submariner relative.

When Arnon Manor and I got to know each other almost a decade ago, the film was an unrealised lifelong passion of Arnon’s, which, I am proud to say; together we made into a reality.

That son of the missing submariner, Arnon Manor, is my son-in law. This film concludes his 32-year search for the father he never knew. As I say in the film, he searches for his father and in doing so I believe he finds himself. I am proud to have helped him take this journey. I think it is an inspiration to us all that Israel never walks away from its sons and daughters lost in that seemingly unending struggle for survival. Through it all it retains and demonstrates its humanity by never letting go, never stopping in its searching and its striving, no matter what the cost in time or money.

I did make a promise to a man I could never meet, my unknown mishboocha, that I would tell his story with and for his son, and now our common grand children. So it’s an intensely personal experience of filmmaking. I am in it to explain our extraordinary story, as is Arnon, my wife Avril even makes a fleeting appearance, as do my grand children (you will recognise them as they are spectacularly beautiful and clever!) and my beautiful daughter, Sarah. Keira Knightly and Natalie Portman have been compared to our Sarah, but Keira, Natalie, you’re lovely girls, but get serious.

Full Circle has been a tough yet touching documentary to produce, and maybe to watch. I suppose a measure of its success in the preview screenings so far is that when I turn around a great many of the audience is crying.

“We have a unique film, which works at a deeply poignant level, and that poignancy inspires the adventure. These guys really care, all of them, and you can’t help but be affected by that.”

As Arnon said, “It’s been hellish difficult at times and emotionally draining, but a privilege nonetheless. This is a story, which had to be told for all families, anywhere, who ever lost someone”.

I think Arnon’s story is for every man and woman, it’s universal, it’s about hope against all odds and all the evidence, redemption, never giving up, and finally, it’s about love.

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