'TIL KINGDOM COME exposes the unusual relationship between American Evangelicals and the State of Israel. Filmmakers Maya Zinshtein and Abie Troen speak on their backgrounds as an Israeli filmmakers and what they hope audiences will take away from the film.
Interview Questions by Madalyn Harris
Can you describe what ‘TIL KINGDOM COME is about?
Millions of American Evangelicals are praying for the State of Israel. Among them are the Binghams, a dynasty of Kentucky pastors, and their Evangelical congregants in an impoverished coal-mining town. They donate sacrificially to Israel’s foremost philanthropic organization, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, because they fervently believe the Jews are crucial to Jesus’s return. This film traces this unusual relationship, from rural Kentucky to the halls of government in Washington, through the moving of the American Embassy in Jerusalem and to the annexation plan of the West Bank. It exposes a stunning backstory of the Trump and Netanyahu administrations, where financial, political, and messianic motivations intersect with the apocalyptic worldview to American foreign policy toward Israel and the Middle East.
What inspired you to focus on the ties between Evangelical Christians and Israelis?
I believe the film addresses topics of immediate concern to viewers in the US, Jews, and Evangelical Christians, secular and religious audiences. The film is not made to “play” to just one side of this complicated story. It depicts its protagonists’ activities with respect even as it reveals the potentially dangerous consequences of faith-directed foreign policy. It allows questions that will necessarily enter and impact the public discourse in the aftermath of the Trump administration for audiences on all sides of the political spectrum, Jews and Evangelical Christians alike.
As someone who grew up in Israel, what was the most challenging or complicated aspect of making a film about this alliance and how it affects life for Israelis?
As a secular Israeli filmmaker, one of the main challenges was to secure access to all the key players of the Christian Evangelical - Jewish bond. It was important for us that the film would be told first hand by the people within the world we are exploring and not by experts. It was also important to secure access into the main political events that happened as a result of the Christian Evangelical involvement in the Middle East - from behind the scenes of moving the American Embassy event in Jerusalem - to the Trump “Deal of the Century” within the White House. The second main challenge was to create intimacy with our main characters, individuals who come from very different worlds than those we live in. We wanted to create a complex and human portrait of people who usually are not seen on screen.
The fact that we were a Jewish-Israeli crew was a challenge but also an opportunity - as both sides didn’t know each other, and this allowed us not to put each other in a clear box. I think it’s an important first stage for a documentary filmmaker - to be able to approach subjects with an open heart. We were transparent with our characters on the way the film would be told - relies on vérité documentation with no narration. They knew that many of the viewers won't agree with their point of view but it was important for them to be able to tell their stories in their voices. All of them watched my previous film, the Emmy award-winning “Forever Pure” (also screened on Independent Lens) that dealt with a complicated combination of politics and religion and found it fair and balanced.
What do you hope ‘TIL KINGDOM COME can teach audiences about the relationship between Evangelical Christians and Israel?
I hope the different communities that are affected by this story would start to have a conversation about the outcomes of the Christian-Jewish bond. I hope this film will initiate a conversation within the Jewish community in the US as I believe it has a major impact on the relationship between the American Jews and the state of Israel.
Your main characters could be described as very ideological or even extreme, they are certainly very passionate. What was it like filming them, did you feel any personal connections or have any personal challenges while filming with Yael Eckstein, the CEO of IFCJ, or with Pastor Boyd Bingham, from Binghamtown Baptist Church?
Many times we are asked how it was spending time in Middlesboro, Kentucky with people that are so different from us. I think both Abie, who produced and shot the film, and I feel privileged that we had the opportunity to spend time with this community. It was the best mix of wonderful, sometimes strange, and always human experiences. When I choose my characters, even if they are very different from myself, I always look first for what connects me and them on a personal level. Yael and I are both of similar age, women that are creating our path and are deeply passionate and committed to what we do. I find it to be a very powerful shared story that she and I have.
Can you clarify how important this alliance is and whether there is opposition to it amongst some of Israeli society or amongst Evangelicals?
This alliance started evolving during the ’80s but definitely reached its peak during the administration of President Trump alongside Benjamin Netanyahu as the PM of Israel. Something that had been considered a questioned alliance is today accepted as mainstream, and, as the film shows, has a huge influence not only on the region of the Middle East but also on the US. This is exactly the reason why we thought that it’s crucial to bring this alliance to the front of the public discourse. In Israel, the broad public had very limited knowledge about the bond before ‘TIL KINGDOM COME was released. But the question about the End of Times prophetic motivation of the Christian Evangelical community to support Israel was always in the background. For myself, as a journalist, it’s more important to discuss the influence of this bond on the political ground - at the present and the near future.
Why is this film important for Israelis, Evangelicals, students, or the average viewer to see?
I strongly believe in knowledge and my main motivation in documentary filmmaking is to bring to the wide audience meaningful and complicated stories, voices that they are not able to hear on the news. Israelis and Christian Evangelicals usually do not meet and learn about each other unless they are people actively working in organizations that promote this alliance. ‘TIL KINGDOM COME’s goal is to open a conversation between Jews, Christian Evangelicals, or any person that is interested in questions of the crossroads of religion and politics. To explore the power of religion in the 21st century and to wonder about the motivations of individuals and states behind the bond they create.
This is not your first film covering Israel. Do you plan on creating more films about Israel or the Middle East in the future, and what issues are you interested in covering?
I want to tell powerful stories that have a strong social and human message for people across the world. I think we live during incredible times when documentaries have the opportunity to reach a wider audience than in the past and create change. I would be happy to continue to raise and explore complicated topics that are hidden from the public discourse and allow the viewers to broaden their knowledge.