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Amos Gitai, one of Israel’s most influential directors who has “A Tramway in Jerusalem” and “A Letter to a Friend in Gaza” playing at Venice Film Festival, is set to direct “Doña Gracia,” a sprawling period drama about Gracia Mendes Nasi.

Although her legacy is not well-known, Doña Gracia was a heroic figure who escaped persecution in 16th century Lisbon and became a prominent figure in the politics of the Ottoman Empire as well as one of the wealthiest Jewish women of Renaissance Europe. She used her wealth to save hundreds of converted Jews from the Inquisition.

Gitai has been developing the project for four years with Marie José Sanselme, his co-writer on “Rabin, the Last Day,” “Disengagement” and “Free Zone,” among other films.

“‘Doña Gracia’ was an incredibly fierce and visionary woman who led an exceptional life,” said Gitai. “Not only did she escape persecution, she faced off the Pope who had sentenced converted Jews (known as Conversos) to execution and organized a trade embargo at the Port of Arcona; she saved more than 25,000 Jews and she later created the first Jewish state for refugees in Tiberias,” added the filmmaker.

Gitai is making “Doña Gracia” with two high-profile French producers, Kristina Larsen at Les Films du Lendemain, and Jean-Baptiste Dupont at La Boetie Films. Dupont previously worked with Gitai on “Rabin, the Last Day,” which competed at Venice in 2015. Larsen’s credits include Jacques Doillon’s “Rodin” and Benoît Jacquot’s “Farewell, My Queen.”

Doña Gracia” will start shooting in October 2019 in several locations in Europe and in Israel.

Gitai said the film will shed some light on the origins of anti-Semitism and is also meant to challenge stereotypes about Islam by showing the great influence Islamic art and culture had during the Renaissance era.

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