It’s More Than Just Sand: The Wilderness Focuses on the Power of the Desert in the Bible

Dec. 3, 2020

By SUSAN MINUK

Stories of desolation, abandonment and contemplation of what lies beyond the known – all inspired by the outsized role deserts play in the Bible – make their world premiere this Sunday, Dec. 6 on Canada’s YES TV network.

The Wilderness, a 10-part biblical docudrama series created and produced by Toronto-based Canadian filmmaker, videographer, and producer Igal Hecht, explores connections to God, the Prophets and the desert through dramatization and interviews with religious and historical experts.

“The Biblical prophets knew that the mystical expanse, the barren earth and the endless terrain were fertile ground for revelation and direct exposure to God,” Hecht told the CJR. “It is in the most desolate places where God has made the most significant appearances, where He speaks into the lives of His people.”

Director Igal Hecht and DOP Sergey Maydin Israel
Director Igal Hecht and DOP Sergey Maydin in Israel

The Wilderness was filmed in the biblical heartland of Israel and the southern region of Mitzpe Ramon, where Abraham, Jacob, Jesus and many other biblical figures had dialogues with God.

The stories explore the lives of Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Mary, Jacob, Hagar, King David, King Saul, Cain and Abel, Job, Lot, and others. Hecht called it “a labour of love.”

“It’s a snapshot of seeds that happen in the wilderness and how the desert plays such a major part in every biblical story,” he explained.

Hecht got his inspiration from his 2016 docu-series Daughters of Eve.

“I did a show which focused on women in the Bible where we took stories and recreated them with a much larger budget and much larger cast,” he said. “I was travelling through the desert on another project and stopped to get some visuals and started thinking of the stories in the Bible that take place in the desert. A couple months later I came up with a demo. YES TV gave it a green light and it went from there.”

The Wilderness opens with the temptation of Jesus. After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus was tempted by the devil for 40 days and nights in the Judean desert.

In episode two, Hecht portrays the biblical patriarch Lot, who accompanies Abraham and Sarah in their journey through the desert.

“I act when I don’t have to speak,” Hecht said. “In this case, it was because of my beard. In [the story of] Cain and Abel, we got to recreate the first murder. We gave it a Guy Ritchie kind of feel – a stylistic way the murder happens shot [from] different angles. We had some fun with it.”

Working with a limited budget, the production began in late 2019, and lasted about five weeks. The small crew included Lior Cohen as assistant director/aerial photography, cinematographer Sergey Maydin, and Gai Hoffmann on makeup. There were more than 30 Israeli actors.

“The challenge we faced was losing light,” said Hecht. “The sun goes down quickly in the desert.”

Post-production was done in Canada at Hecht’s Chutzpa Productions.

Although filmed in Israel, the series is in English. “We were very careful with the text. All of the dialogue is taken directly from the [Hebrew] Bible or the New Testament,” Hecht said. “Some of these stories have no dialogue or have one line.”

Each episode features a number of experts telling the story, lending perspective and analysis.

“We don’t preach,” said Hecht. “We are retelling biblical stories for people interested in history, maybe trying to understand what the Bible is about and what [it] can incorporate in your life in 2020.”

Born in Ashkelon, Israel, Hecht moved to Toronto with his family in 1988. In 1999, he founded Chutzpa Productions, showcasing controversial and thought-provoking films that have focused on human rights, politics, land disputes, conflict, satire, and pop culture.

He’s been involved in the production of more than 50 documentary films and some 20 television series. His work has been screened nationally and internationally on Netflix, BBC, the Documentary Channel, CBC, YES TV and HBO Europe.

The Wilderness airs Dec. 6th on YES TV at 6:30 p.m. and repeated at 11 p.m.

A trailer may be viewed at: