If Haim Silberstein’s early life sounds like the plot of a spy flick, that’s only appropriate. Silberstein, the producer-director of ISRAEL21c’s new 21see video series, looks at things through the eyes of a visual storyteller.
“My dad was a government secret agent in the desert,” he offers as his opening line in our interview.
Intriguing, right? Alas, he cannot go into much detail.
Born in 1968 in Beersheva – the unofficial capital of Israel’s Negev Desert – Silberstein was four when his family was sent to Australia, and 10 years old when they packed up for Paris. The family’s globe-trotting somehow connected with his father’s clandestine activities.
Three years later, the Silbersteins came home to Israel. Young Haim had a bunch of catching up to do. “I could barely read Hebrew,” he says.
Obviously he got over that hump because he ended up captaining his own ship in the Israeli navy, serving in the military for seven years instead of the usual three, and reaching the rank of captain.
Following his impressive service, he dyed his hair red and enrolled in Jerusalem’s Bezalel Institute of Art and Design to study photography, a serious hobby since childhood.
Eventually he switched to Sam Spiegel Film & Television School, also in Jerusalem. Upon graduating, he took off for a trip to New York, only to come back sooner than expected because his father passed away.
“I worked as a director in TV in Israel for three years, met my future wife, Daphna, and then moved to Los Angeles,” he says.
Not only was the 1990s film industry in Israel small and undeveloped, but his personal taste in content was quite different from the Israeli norm at the time.
“So I wanted to go to the States, where there is a big film industry and room for what I wanted to do. And I wanted to make films in English because of the greater box-office potential.”
Life in LA was great for nearly seven years. He went to the American Film Institute in Los Angeles and began creating. And then the global economic downturn hit in September 2008.
“My wife is an architect and she lost her job. Then she got pregnant and she wanted to go back home to have the baby there,” relates Silberstein.
Initially he was “sort of devastated” to leave California and the career that was just getting underway.
“But I’m fine with it now, because good stuff happened that I wasn’t expecting,” he says.
On a personal level, returning to Israel allowed his mother and sister to become a very big part of the lives of his daughter and son, now ages 8 and 4.
Professionally, his prior experience won him instant entrée as a director for TV shows and commercials. However, the industry was still small and work opportunities dried up during the Gaza war in the summer of 2014. So Silberstein made a jump to high-tech, accepting was he calls his “first job,” as a product manager.
“I had always been a sort of an entrepreneur as a filmmaker, and also I was a partner in a children’s content business in LA that won a licensing deal with Mattel and did well. In Israel, I had a small startup in content-driven technology relating to kids and food, although it didn’t work out.”
His high-tech position lasted only about two years because something better came along: ISRAEL21c.
He met Jonathan Baruch, a California entertainment industry executive and now an ISRAEL21c board member, through a friend in Israel a few years ago. They remained in touch.
“Jonathan always said he wanted to do something together, and we started 21see in September  after he joined the ISRAEL21c board,” says Silberstein. The idea was to build a video platform to share stories of modern Israeli culture.
With Baruch as executive producer and Silberstein as producer-director, a pilot was shot starring Silberstein’s cousin, Kathy Cohen, as presenter. Silberstein recruited “top notch” friends Eyal Sella as director of photography and Shahar Beeri as video editor.
“We went on from that to filming four episodes — on tattoos, fashion, Tel Aviv Night Run and beer. Then we did a football series, a video on Michael Solomonov cooking in Israel, some live Facebook videos.”
The next project was videos on Israeli dogs and weddings, starring Canadian-Israeli comic Renny Grinshpan, and an exploration of motorsports and beaches with Cohen as presenter. These are expected out soon.
“Every episode we’ve done has taught me something I didn’t know,” Silberstein says. “I think we’re doing nice stuff.”