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  • Writer's pictureAliena

Farewell from three dear friends

I recently learned about the passing of three men, friends of mine, each legend in his field: Don Phillips, Ben Hur Sepehr, and Vladimir Chernozemsy, may their memory be blessed.

Don Phillips, AKA “The Golden Eye”, was an Oscar-winning casting director, and the one who discovered Sean Penn and Matthew Mcconaughey, among more. I first met him in June 2013 at a coffee shop in my neighborhood, where I was sitting with a friend. Don heard us talking and thought it was Armenian. The minute he learned it was actually Hebrew, he gushed with personal stories about Israel, Jews, and his great adventures with them that spanned a lifetime.

When my friend told him I am actually a writer and sort of a journalist, he offered to sit with me and tell me everything so I could share it with the Israeli community. Of course I agreed.

We set up a meeting at my living room, where we then sat down, enjoying refreshments and Don’s fascinating stories about his first Jewish wife, the special connection he had with his beloved wife Dotty, and his historic visit to Jerusalem in the 70’s, as the mayor’s guest of honor…

I prepared a nice, long article and sent it for his approval before translating to Hebrew and getting it published. He liked it a lot, but couple of days later, he called and asked to shelve it, as he had just started working with a writer on his biography. Of course I agreed.

We remained friends on Facebook, with occasional talks, and when I relocated to TLV, Don was among my top fans to “like” every shot and update I posted. Then, one day I realized I hadn’t heard from him in a while. So I went on Facebook to find out that he passed away on Thanksgiving Day of 2021, which happened to be my father’s yarzeit.

Ben Hur Sepehr, an Iranian Jew living in LA, was an award-winning filmmaker and a stage director, who studied under Ingmar Bergman and Frank Sundstorm in Sweden, later on becoming the personal cinematographer of the Iranian Shah. We first met at a JNF Annual Breakfast in 2012. Ben Hur initially thought I was French. He was really excited to learn that I’m Jewish, Israeli, and a published writer.

We met (also at my home) and I heard his fascinating stories, the kind you don’t get to hear every day: In addition to being the late Shah’s personal cinematographer, Ben Hur had met with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and wrote the screenplay for “Pretty Woman”, which was unfortunately stolen from him and sold to Israeli producer Arnon Milchan – who, of course, was not aware.

Ben Hur’s most recent work at the time was a short film titled “The Desperate”, which he wrote, produced, and directed. Based on a true story heard firsthand, about a profound event in a WWII German Concentration Camp, the film won 67 awards and over 100 nominations from top film festivals all over the world, including Cannes, Hollywood, and Levante International in Italy – where they called it a “Masterpiece” and Ben Hur “Maestro”.

However, Ben Hur’s biggest dream was to make a movie portraying Jesus as a Jewish Rabbi, and by that leverage him as Judaism’s biggest ambassador – which will bring reconciliation and unity between the two religions. Seeing how passionate he was about it, I offered to help spread the word, and the fruit of our meeting was my Hebrew article published in the Israeli magazine . Later on, I hosted another historic meeting at my home, where I introduced Ben Hur to Meir Doron, author of Arnon Milchan’s biography…

Ben Hur passed away in mid-2021. ת.נ.צ.ב.ה

Last, but not lease, is Vladimir Chernozemsy, a Bulgarian-born writer, actor, documentary filmmaker, painter, and director. He began publishing novels in English in 1994, and published nearly 50, the most known of which is “I, Nostradamus”.

I was introduced to him in the summer of 2015, six months after I lost my dad in Israel. My friend who is a magician took me with him to visit Vladimir where he was living at the time. Vladimir was very excited to meet a real (certified) philosopher, who had, just like him, left her homeland to make a new life in the U.S. Our minds connected immediately, and I was honored to receive his book “I, Nostradamos”, autographed with a special dedication.

Later on, he wrote to me that the night before my visit, he had dreamt of me. We were supposed to get together and philosophize, but then reality had its own plans for us all…

Vladimir left this world on 7/17/22.

My personal loss of these friends is, in fact, a collective one. All three of them were greater than life, and I find comfort in the fact that I got to know them and call them friends. I hope they’re proud of me, too.

Rest In Peace, Legends. You are missed.

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