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Thursday October 23rd 2014

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Visit the Promised Land

By Jennie McKeon

Todd Morehead had never directed a movie before, but that didn’t stop him when he decided to produce a film about a country. A country that is often times misunderstood.

“My love for Israel made me want to make this movie,” Morehead said. “I really wanted to share my experience with the world.”

“Promised Land: Israel Through the Eyes of Surfers,” produced by Walking on Water Films, shows a different side to the country by way of two surfers with different faiths. The film discusses questions such as: Who really belongs there?  And, why is Jerusalem so important?

“What we tried not to do was force-feed an opinion,” Morehead said.

Hani Ovadia, one of the surfers in the film and Morehead’s best friend, is a resident of Israel. He completely supported Morehead’s film and hopes it makes viewers more open-minded.

“I think Todd was brave to show people a different point of view,” he said. “People don’t have to be pro-Israel after watching it, but I hope they are more educated.”

Morehead and co-producer Bryan Jennings work with Walking on Water, a non-profit organization that spreads the word of Jesus Christ with surfers around the world since 1995. Jennings started Walking on Water with the idea of using surfing to share his faith with the younger generation. Walking on Water Films has produced over ten films and contributed to promoting last year’s surf biopic “Soul Surfer.”

“Promised Land” has received high praise from its past 10 screenings and will be making a stop in Pensacola April 22.

“When we were in Israel, we had two Israeli mayors show up,” Morehead said. “The community thought it was a huge blessing.”

For Ovadia, screenings were filled with mixed emotions.

“It was very fulfilling, but also very difficult,” he said. “I’m more of a private person. I was very nervous to see myself on the big screen. At the first screening, I was sweating. When it was over people stood up and clapped and now I’m proud to show the movie.”

Morehead hopes that the film will bring respect to Israel and its cultures and religion.

“It’s so fun to see a dream come true,” he said of the movie. “For Christians to gain a love and respect for the Jewish religion would be a win-win for me.”

Morehead worries that mainstream media doesn’t always paint an accurate picture of Israel and the people that inhabit it. He hopes to teach viewers about the culture and the people.

“There are common denominators,” he said about the Jewish residents of Israel. “Many of them have a common story and have family who have died or survived the Holocaust and they’re surrounded by countries who don’t understand their right to exist.”

Ovadia was more than happy to put misconceptions to rest.

“I’ve been to California a couple of times and all of the people thought we still rode on camels,” he said. “We’re not a third-world country anymore – not at all.”

Although Walking on Water has a bias when it comes to water sports, Morehead believed that bringing surfers into the story would be a great mediator to Israel’s controversy.

“Surfers are the perfect avenue,” he said. “They do have surfers in Israel, but you don’t have to be a surfer to enjoy the movie. Our target audience was gentile Christians and Jewish, and yet there are hardcore surfers who love the movie and how we portray everybody.”

Since his first visit three and half years ago, Morehead has thought about telling Israel’s story. Perhaps his favorite part about making the movie was getting to travel to the Promised Land three more times to finish filming.

“I learned something new each visit,” he said. “There’s so much to learn about their history.”

As much as Morehead enjoyed filming, he described the experience as “complete joy,” his days, as a director, are now over.

“This was a real, heart project.” Morehead said. “It’s the only movie I directed. The only movie I will direct.”

PROMISED LAND: ISRAEL THROUGH THE EYES OF SURFERS
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday, April 22
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: Free
DETAILS: pensacolasaenger.com or promisedlandthemovie.com