In the coming months Antwerp will be the setting for not one, but two new fiction series about the diamond world. Last week, filming began for Diamonds (described by its director as “The Godfather in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community“, a series by Eén (Belgian Dutch language television) and Netflix. Belgian actor Kevin Janssens (42) has the lead role.

The story is set in the Jewish Quarter. “Right in the neighborhood where I live,” says the actor.

Antwerp’s diamond industry is an attractive one for creators of fiction. In the past, this distinct world was the setting for two Belgian TV series, Diamant (1997) and Kinderen Van Dewindt (2008). But that was small beer compared to what’s in the pipeline now.

‘The Godfather’ in the Jewish Quarter

Last week, you couldn’t look away from it. In the midst of Antwerp’s ‘Diamond Square Mile‘, the first scene of Diamonds, a compelling crime and family drama series, was recorded. Diamonds is a series for Eén and Netflix, created by Belgian production house De Mensen, in co-production with the internationally renowned production company Keshet International from Israel.

The series is about Noah Wolfson (Kevin Janssens), who returns to Antwerp after turning his back on his family and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish way of life years earlier. Noah discovers that his brother got the once-powerful family business into trouble by trading diamonds with shadowy partners. Despite his strained relationship with his family, Noah tries to save the business and restore the family’s honor. It is the start of an avalanche of trouble that sucks the family into the underworld against its will.

We like to describe this series as The Godfather in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Antwerp”, says director Cecilia Verheyden. “That speaks for itself in terms of genre. It’s an exciting and above all unique story: an industry run for decades by one community, you don’t see that anywhere else in the world. But what’s extra appealing to me is that it’s essentially a family drama, about siblings who relate to each other.

The series not only tells an exciting story, but also provides an insight into the little-known but intriguing world of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. The actors not only speak Dutch and English, but also Yiddish. This requires intense preparation on the part of the Flemish cast, under the guidance of specialists from the Jewish community.

Mysterious world

I’ve lived in Antwerp for many years, even in the middle of the neighborhood where many of my fellow Jewish townspeople live,” says Kevin Janssens, who was present on the first day of filming. “And yet I have to admit that I know very little about their way of life. It’s such an intriguing, mysterious world. For me, it’s a real gift that, thanks to this role, I’m completely immersed in the world of my Jewish neighbors. I study hard and hope I don’t disappoint them with my Yiddish.

A lot of time was spent writing the story. “We wanted to look beyond an exotic facade,” says lead screenwriter Yuval Yefet. “The story describes the clash between an ‘Old World’ and the ‘New World’, both in the diamond industry and in that community. If these centuries-old institutions accept change, they can survive. At the same time, they risk losing the foundation that made them what they are. The challenge was to tell the story from within, and not from the perspective of an outsider.

Well-known but closed

Creating and setting up Diamonds was not an obvious plan,” says Pieter Van Huyck, Head of Fiction at De Mensen. “We look inside two intertwined arenas that are both well-known, but at the same time closed and unknown: the intense family life in the Jewish community and the goings-on in the Diamond District. That makes this series unique. We are happy that we have already gotten this far, thanks to a wonderful collaboration with our Israeli writer and co-director.

Filming for Diamonds is set to continue until February 2022. The series can later be seen on Netflix and Eén.
We can’t wait to watch this series dubbed ‘The Godfather’ in the Jewish Quarter.

Meanwhile, filming for ‘Everbody Loves Diamonds’ is also underway in Antwerp. That series is about the gang of thieves led by Sicilian mastermind Leonardo Notarbartolo, who in 2003 managed to bypass the alarm system of the Antwerp World Diamond Centre and steal stones worth over 100 million euros. The series will be released later on Amazon.