PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
Producer and director Jeff Hoffman works on his forthcoming film “4 Million Bullets” in his Marblehead studio.
BY BILL BROTHERTON
MARBLEHEAD — Jeff Hoffman’s resume is filled with some of the biggest names in television shows and videos.
He has worked for “60 Minutes” and “20-20.” He was a camera operator for “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” Michael Jackson’s iconic “Thriller” video, and TV’s campy “Melrose Place.”
The Marblehead native has produced documentaries at the North and South poles and made a Hollywood Western for German TV.
But no project has captured his heart and imagination as much as “4 Million Bullets: The Untold Fight For Survival.” The self-funded documentary series has consumed his life for the past six months. It tells the remarkable story of Israel’s War of Independence and the clandestine efforts of wealthy Jewish industrialists who, Hoffman said, raised $190 million in 1945 and sent ships, arms and airplanes to Palestine under the noses of the FBI and the British.
It was inspired by his grandfather, the late Leo Quint, an upholsterer from Newton who was one of thousands who helped the effort. Quint traveled often to Israel with his GMC work vans, which he donated to the Israeli Defense Forces for use as ambulances.
“My Zionist grandfather shot 8mm black-and-white movies covering some 20 years, and a box full of them was left to me,” said Hoffman, 60, who tired of Hollywood and the nomadic life, moving back to Marblehead with his wife and daughter last year. He watched the home movies, which recorded family vacations to North Conway, N.H., and other locales in addition to Quint standing next to the vans in Israel.
“I was fascinated,” he said. “I mentioned it to my dentist the next day, and he said ‘Do you know about the secret bullet factory in Israel?’ A fake kibbutz, Machon Ayalon, was built, disguised as a bakery and laundromat, and young volunteers worked around the clock underground making the bullets used in the War of Independence. I researched it and was hooked. This is an incredible story that has never been told.”
The dramatic, compelling tale features first-hand accounts of dozens of Americans, Canadians, South Africans, Jews and Gentiles who volunteered to fight alongside the Jews in Palestine for Israeli statehood. Most of the subjects are in their 90s. That’s one reason why Hoffman is intensifying his fundraising efforts and working toward gaining nonprofit status, which would make it easier for foundations to contribute to the $1.7 million project. He ambitiously hopes to complete it by October.
“I’m a visual storyteller,” said Hoffman, a St. John’s Prep and Syracuse University graduate and a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada. “We (Divvy Ahronhem conducts the interviews; Hoffman directs and films) have been filming throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe and Israel for half a year … capturing interviews with participants and locations that played a key role in the War of Independence,” he said. “Many eyewitnesses have passed on and time is not on our side. This is the last chance for them to share their legacies, the one chance in life to tell their story and talk about the support they gave.”
Hoffman adds that participants have been eager to tell their stories.
“We’d interview one person who would introduce us to dozens of other people,” he said. “A network has developed, which has given us access to some incredible people. This started as a 90-minute documentary and has become a series that I hope will get people involved in active discourse.”
Hoffman said he is optimistic that “4 Million Bullets” will play the festival circuit and get picked up by a cable TV station.
And to think this all started with a box of old home movies that had been sitting in his garage.
“My grandfather died in 1973,” he said. “We spent all the holidays at his house in Newton. He was a huge influence for me to become a filmmaker. He’s my inspiration … and this project is the culmination of my 40 years as a cinematographer. This is Leo Quint’s legacy.”