EXCLUSIVE: Alexander Rodnyansky’s AR Content has tapped Oscar Winning director Kevin Macdonald and Rosanne Korenberg to produce an untitled documentary film about the largely overlooked pre-WWII refugee crisis that set the stage for millions of deaths in the Holocaust. International indifference to the plight of persecuted Jews placed them in harm’s way for the atrocities to come. Macdonald won the Oscar for Documentary Feature in 2000 for One Day In September, the dissection of the terror attack that led to the slaughter of the Israeli Olympic team at the Olympics in Munich. He most recently directed the Whitney Houston documentary Whitney, on which Korenberg was executive producer.

The film will trace a dirty little secret that preceded the Holocaust, one that Rodnyansky believes has relevance to the current indifference and the labeling as pariahs that is happening to immigrants right now.

Kevin Macdonald
Macdonald
Michael Buckner/REX/Shutterstock

Long before Hitler implemented his ‘Final Solution,’ he was trying to get the Jews out of Nazi Germany. The Évian Conference of 1938 was held to discuss the plight of those displaced by the Third Reich. Out of 32 participating countries — including the U.S. and UK — only the Dominican Republic would agree to accept a significant number of refugees. That left most of Europe’s Jewish population to a grim fate. In one case in 1939, a German captain commandeered the St. Louis westward with over 900 refugees aboard, but was turned back by the United States. the captain had no choice but to return the passengers to the Nazis. The Bermuda Conference of 1943 also failed to find a new home for those persecuted in Nazi-occupied Europe. The green-lit documentary will focus on the parallels between these events and today’s refugee crisis.

“If you take the quoted comments of Western politicians and citizens in 1939, and compare them with the comments we are seeing today about immigrants and refugees in particular, they are literally interchangeable,” Rodnyansky said. “They are the same xenophobic, nationalistic, and dangerous words that contributed to one of history’s darkest chapters, and I believe that by telling this story to a modern audience, we can show them the devastating consequences of apathy. It’s not about politics or policy, it’s about people and our social values.”

Said Macdonald: “This chapter of history is not only more relevant now than ever, it’s a warning. We are excited to work with Alexander to show people what could happen, and what has happened, in a unique and unexpected way.”

“The past is often prologue” said Korenberg, “and the story of the SS St. Louis is repeating itself today as refugees on ships from North Africa and the Middle East are turned back from Europe.”

A director search is currently under way. Rodnyansky launched Los Angeles-based AR Content earlier this year to focus on developing “today’s most urgent stories with today’s best filmmakers.” Other AR Content projects include the Saddam Hussein interrogation thriller Debriefing The President, based on John Nixon’s firsthand account of interrogating the former dictator, to be directed by Oscar nominated Ziad Doueiri.

Macdonald is repped by WME.