ABOVE AND BEYOND film brings life to incredible tale of U.S. volunteer pilots in Israel War of Independence

  • Jul 9, 2014 1:27pm GMT

Machal is the Hebrew acronym for “volunteers from abroad.” During Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, Machalniks, as they were called by the Israeli’s, served in every branch of its armed forces. Though small in number, Machalniks were veterans of Allied WWII army, naval and air forces. Their skills and military experience were essential to the high stakes fight against far larger, better trained and equipped Arab armies attacking them from five countries.

At the time, the U.S. government not only shunned supporting the nascent nation in its earliest vulnerable hours, federal laws made it nearly impossible for U.S. citizens to do so. But be they Jew or Gentile, they found ways, often at great personal cost. Had they not, the Middle East political and geographic landscape would be vastly different. (To understand the scope of Malchaniks’ contributions I especially recommend I Am My Brother’s Keeper by authors Jeffrey and Craig Weiss).

Within this pitched conflict of 1948 lies the incredible tale of the genesis of the Israel Air Force, 90% comprised of a rag-tag mix of international Machalnik pilots. They turned the tide of war in an equally disparate amalgamation of surplus aircraft, notably and ironically including S-199 fighters, a Junkers Jumo-engined Me-109 variant licensed-built by the Czechs and not so affectionately dubbed the “Mule.”

A number of American volunteer pilots, each a character in his own right, played key roles in the air combat but as importantly the clandestine acquisition of aircraft and armaments. The best of fiction can’t match the intrigue, heroism, sacrifice, heartbreak, and triumph of this incredibly intense time.

Now bringing a long overdue spotlight on the American Machalniks of the Israel Air Force is the soon-to-premier Above and Beyond, a documentary by producer Nancy Spielberg (the youngest sister of filmmaker Stephen Spielberg), directed by Roberta Grossman. The 87-minute long film weaves archival stills, footage and interviews with surviving Machalniks together with re-creations using real aircraft and CGI. Certainly at the core of documenting how the State of Israel and its vaunted air force evolved are the extraordinary personal testimonies of the veterans themselves, several of whom have passed on since their interviews for the film.

Above and Beyond starts it festival run with a sneak peek screening followed by Q & A with Nancy at the Jerusalem International Film Festival on July 15th. The U.S. premier will follow at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival on July 27th. Invitations to screen their new film at other festivals have been coming from around the globe, including the UK, Australia, Hong Kong and Brazil. My own Reel Stuff Film Festival of Aviation series looks forward to hosting the filmmakers for screenings at the Air Force Museum giant screen theatre as well as other North American museum venues, early 2015 dates TBD.