“Ahoy matey!” or “Oy matey!”? A new short film featuring Jewish pirates will be making its world premiere next week. The 10-minute short film, “The Pirate Captain Toledano”, will make its world premiere at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival on Tuesday. The latest film from OxRock Productions, “The Pirate Captain Toledano” is the world’s first cinematic depiction of Inquisition-era Jewish pirates in the Caribbean. The film features dialogue and music in Ladino, historically-accurate replica props, and even an antique kiddush cup from Jamaica.
Inspired by having read the 2008 book Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, filmmaker Arnon Shorr was fascinated by Jewish piracy in the wake of the Inquisition. “The way the book presents it, Jewish pirates were motivated not just by the usual pirate motivations. They sailed the seas when Spain was the maritime superpower, so Spanish ships, with the Spanish gold fleet in particular, were their primary target,” said Shorr. “These Jews had fled Spain – they were victims of the Inquisition – so there’s a sense of justice that seeps into their narrative in a way that simply doesn’t exist in typical pirate stories.”
However, time went by before Shorr seriously considered actually making a Jewish pirate film. Shorr then heard a presentation this past fall by Amir Giveon, the founder of Jewcer.org, and was inspired to give the crowdfunding platform a try. The idea for “The Pirate Captain Toledano” hit Arnon all at once and he began working on what became a successful crowdfunding campaign.
Shooting the film in early December on two tall ships at The Ocean Institute in Dana Point, California, Shorr was also able to find actors and a crew who had personal connections to the history behind the film, such as the film’s star, Stephen DeCordova, who is a descendant of Caribbean Jews.
The personal connection that DeCordova had was a special prop. “When I brought in our actor, Stephen DeCordova, to read for the role of The Captain, he brought a small kiddush cup with him. I figured he simply brought the prop from home so he’d have something to work with during the reading of the scene,” says Shorr. As it turns out, the cup had some history. DeCordova was born in the US, but comes from a Jamaican Jewish family. His mother was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and descends from Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition and came to the new world in the 16th century. The cup belonged to Stephen’s grandfather in Jamaica, and has been in the family for more generations than anyone can remember. “It was as if Stephen had reached into my script and pulled the prop right out of the pages” said Shorr. “I was honored that Stephen even offered to let us use the cup in the film!”
“The very fact that the phrase ‘Jewish pirate’ catches people by surprise is an indicator that this is a type of character that we need to see,” said Shorr. “It’s a reminder that Jews can share a cultural heritage with more than just Eastern Europe. It’s a reminder that a stereotype, whether it’s positive or negative, is still a stereotype.”
“The Pirate Captain Toledano” premieres on Tuesday. Further information and tickets are available here.