BLUES BY THE BEACH Independent Film Producer Jack Baxter’s Reel Experience With A Bomb Murderer [archive]:

17 Apr

Soon after the Palestinian Authority re-aired its music video, removed from broadcast after the US Senate screened the footage encouraging children to die as Martyrs for Allah, two video projects debut in the same week. One is inciteful; the other is insightful. Both projects are being presented to the public days after Duke University hosts the Palestinian Solidarity Movement’s 4th annual conference. PSM was launched in 2000 in support of the Intafada’s terror campaign on Israel a precedent to America’s  911.

MTV is airing the artist once again known as Prince’s music video featuring a teenage actress as a Palestinian child bomb murderess self-detonating amongst innocent bystanders. American film maker Jack Baxter screens his independent film “Blues By The Beach” at New York Hampton’s International Film Festival. Baxter narrowly escaped death 1½ years ago from a bomb murderer detonating in Tel Aviv where Baxter was filming.

Baxter’s movie addressing Israelis defying death by living normal lives in the face of terrorism is in the Festival’s category “The Abraham Award for Films of Conflict and Resolution.” It will probably never achieve the Golden Globe, a Clef D’ors, Emmy, or the financial success it deserves. Baxter, a struggling filmmaker happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. He brings a reality check to people who think they are impervious to unpredictable, increasing terrorist strikes contrasting Prince presenting a video promoting teen suicide and murder. The singer will probably glean Grammy and other nominations along with the reward of being a celebrity, immune from the US Senate.

1:00am the morning of Wednesday April 30, 2003, security guard Avi Taviv prevented two British Pakistani bomb murderers from entering Mike’s Place where Baxter and co-directors Detroit born Israeli Josh Faudem and Czechoslovakian Pavla Fleischer had been filming for two weeks. One bomb murderer detonated himself. The second ran away, remaining at large. Baxter, says, “It’s important people pay attention to the fact the bomb murderers were not Muslims from the Middle East. They, Asif Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif, were British.” Taviv, severely injured, is credited with saving the lives of many patrons. The three dead include French waitress, Dominique Hess, last filmed moments before the blast. Hess planned to return to France within the days after she was murdered.

Sagit Shir, singer for the band performing the night of the murders testifed at the Israeli government’s alternative Hague hearing after being refused entry to the to International Court of Justice along with 18 other victims and casualties of terrorism. Shir, staring through the blood red velvet curtains shielding the audience from Pro-Palestinians protesting Israel’s safety wall, said, “We used to joke no bomber would bother with Mike’s Place because it wasn’t famous enough.” Hanif’s self-detonation proved Shir wrong. Mike’s Place sits next to the US Embassy on Israel’s Mediterranean waterfront. Shir’s boyfriend, the band’s drummer is still wearing ¾ body pressure suits aiding to heal burns he suffered in the detonation. “You know,” said Baxter, “I recall seeing something strange before the blast but did not know what I was observing at the time. A group of Middle Eastern men, not Israelis, were smoking together outside the bar. And, they all got up. Walked away. I thought that was strange. Then, boom….”

The blast left Baxter in a coma. He awoke after three days, his left arm paralyzed. It has atrophied to one half the width of his right hand. His eardrums, typical of bomb murder victims, are ruptured. Baxter leans forward to listen, sometimes even for himself, twisting comically until he can hear people he speaks with, a human version of the cell phone television commercial repeating, “Can you hear me?” Talk too soft or with your back turned to him, he can’t. His left leg drags as he walks. Measuring over six feet, Baxter, visibly gaunt in comparison to home photos decorating the loft he shares with wife Fran Strauss-Baxter, appears taller. American doctors have not yet diagnosed the source of eruptions on his body.  They recently concluded they are caused by foreign organisms, undiagnosed as of yet. Tel Aviv’s Rabin Trauma Centre ER doctor Jeffrey Kashuk, speaking in Canada in March on the topic of medical terrorism said terrorists engage in chemical and biological warfare counting on the deadly projectiles Aids, Hepatitis C virus and SARS-like virus infected bone, blood  and other particles from bomb murderers will further injure their victims. Rabin Medical Centre is a leader in urban triage of terror attack sites including murder bombings. Baxter’s doctors determined early on, his skin eruptions were not caused by nail and metal bits exploded from vests the bombers wear. It was determined Baxter’s bomb murderer used plastic explosives more typical of Irish bombers.

One sense’s even if Baxter knew what is causing his bumps, he wouldn’t care. His film, wife and two oversized cats are most important to him. Fran flew to her husband’s side upon hearing of his attempted murder. A former girlfriend saw his misidentified photo, ¾ page tall in Westchester’s “The Journal News” claiming he was a wounded Israeli. Baxter includes the  clipping in his film’s press kit.

Baxter prefers talking about his new love. Israel. A Catholic, he is working on persuading Fran to move there from their Penn Station neighbourhood loft. Only another casualty of terrorism can understand why. Baxter has in Israel a solidarity he lacks in the US. Few in America understand daring death, surviving a horrific tragedy or losing loved, close ones or strangers from no reason other than hate. Baxter returned to Israel after coming back to New York. Interpreting his wife’s order to stay out of danger as not riding public buses, he took taxis to the battleground settlement of Hebron. And walked the streets of Tel Aviv late at night. Alone.

Baxter settles into his armchair for picture taking. He put on his “Mike’s Place” t-shirt, making sure the words can be seen by the camera. Closing his eyes for a moment, his left hand seems to be to be tapping in time to songs Baxter must have been listening to that ill fated night. Baxter recalls how, in a style Cecil B. De Mille would be proud of, he ordered 28 year old Josh Faudem, “Keep shooting.”  Faudem did.

Faudem’s father, mother and best friends from childhood gathered for beers and soda after screening “Blues” at Jerusalem’s Cinemathique. Newsman Ira Garshowitz says Faudem’s film has a chance to save lives in Israel. And outside. Garshowitz knows terrorism does not respect borders or cultures. It just murders. “How did they respond?” asked Baxter. “Did they laugh?” Yes. At all the right spots. And they wept. Every person in the room was seven degrees of separation from terrorism. Someone they once met at the mall. A colleague. A friend. A relative. Even a brother.

Baxter had travelled to Israel to film a documentary on Palestinian Muslim Arab leader Marwan Barghouti, the man he says launched Israel’s recent three year Intafada of terror. Upon discovering a woman was already filming “his” documentary, he went for a drink ending up at “Mike’s Place,” listening to blues by the beach and “Mike’s Place” owner, Gal Ganzman, in a life changing conversation. Ganzman, who rebuilt his establishment in time for Israel’s Memorial Day less than a week later, had suggested Baxter do a film on how Israelis have fun in the face of death, albeit, according Jerusalem cab driver Moti, “a bit nervously.” Unfunded, already in Israel, Baxter said, “Sure.”

And, for Israel, it is a good thing Baxter did.

Terrorism, old hat for Israel, is new for North America. With the timing of Prince’s video screening the same week as Baxter’s film, people may realize what is mischaracterized as an issue between Jews and Arabs, is in fact a battle between good and evil. Good people don’t murder. Bad people do. Baxter’s film shows audience and interviewers, the bomb murderers did not ask fellow Muslims to leave “Mike’s Place.” Nor did they warn non-jews to run for safety. They walked in, self-exploding, taking with them innocent people caught in their murderous perimeter.

Fleischer told the New York Sun, she had hoped “Blues By The Beach,” would be a happy piece on Israel. She said it “turned out to be quite different.” It is different. It shows the real Israel is not a war zone but a suburban urban life in a country rich in heritage attracting colorful characters like Hess, Faudem and Baxter.  And terrorists intent on murder.

Baxter is fundraising to get his film to Cannes. Everything he had was invested into this movie he nearly died for. “We’re living on food stamps,” he says.

Fran Baxter says her husband is a hero. No, Fran, Jack is a saint who aught to be rewarded. Press releases should be sent to every enforcement office, military base, high school, college, synagogue and church group, social event and memo board, advising this film is a must-see. ”Blues By The Beach” is reality entertainment showing what will hit America, again. Twin Towers, Target, a local restaurant, a bus. An independent film screening in the Hamptons or, even the location where Prince films his next music video. This jewel of a film brings home two points MPDC Lieutenant Jeffrey Herold, said, in an interview, “It is only a matter of time,” and “it is where we aren’t looking that it will happen,” as it did, Friday. Two bombers wearing backpacks, entered and shattered a tightly secured area of Iraq near the highly guarded US Embassy. Witnesses reported something similar to Baxter. They said it was strange. The two bomb murderers sat for some time sipping tea before self-detonating.

Baxter’s film deserves to be entered in and win every independent film festival in the world. It is an ambassadorial lesson worthy of receiving the Nobel Prize for explaining, in reel time, the Conflict in the Middle East, is a matter of life or death.  Almost Baxter’s. Next time, mine or yours.



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