Photo by Sariel Keslasi

Silver’s Uprising Review: The Grass Is Always Greener

2024 Toronto Jewish Film Festival

7 mins read

Silver’s Uprising
(Israel, 97 min.)
Dir. Dan Shadur


It’s not uncommon for world events to overwhelm film narratives after their production. I recall watching films the day after 9/11, seeing the Twin Towers, and feeling a kick-to-the-stomach with such a relatively innocuous sight. While not quite the same, I felt a similar chill when watching Dan Shadur’s compelling Silver’s Uprising, a true-life crime story that begins with a police raid in Kiev in 2019, a half-year before that country’s existential threat ramped up, and ends in Israel around October 2022, almost a year to the day before such trivialities as an illicit drug trade would fade in the face of far more grave threats.

The story of Amos Dov Silver is the stuff of a screenwriter’s dream. Raised orthodox, and encouraged via Talmudic tradition to interrogate even the most solid of long-held beliefs regarding the laws of man, he soon parlayed his rebellious streak into a kind of evangelism for cannabis culture. As the film astutely demonstrates, Israel is a nation that, thanks to mandatory military service, has a greater percentage of individuals diagnosed with PTSD than most countries. At the same time, the use of so-called recreation drugs like marijuana has been severely curtailed, fostering an underground economy that often results in violence and other criminal activity.

What Silver and his colleagues (including religiously observant members of his own family) managed to do was to exploit the same entrepreneurial spirit and tech acumen that, for many, is the cornerstone of Israel’s positive contribution to the global economy. Essentially, Silver and company created an “app for that,” Telegrass, using the Telegram secure social media platform as the basis for an entirely off-grid marketplace for drug dealing. Ordering weed in Israel became as simple as taking a ride-share to the airport, renting a vacation home from a private citizen, or grabbing takeout from a local restaurant.

Of course, such “gig economies” put buyers in touch with sellers, with ratings and the like keeping abuse to a minimum. This “honour amongst thieves” mentality resulted in millions of shekels being passed around, an entirely new modality both economically and socially that brought to the fore the hitherto underground dealings.

The grandiosity implied in the title Silver’s Uprising is another, darker aspect of this Robin Hood-like tale. The vetting of dealers on the site morphed into allowing, if not encouraging, teens and even younger individuals to be certified as providers of the illicit goods. Those who questioned some of the decision making of Telegrass’ executive were soon the subject of attacks and retribution. The same messianic ethos that shaped Silver’s upbringing was rechanneled into his new idiom, and it’s easy to see the same elements that would drive individuals to be followers of a given guru or Hasidic rebbe as a bunch of stoners would see a kind of saviour in Silver and his apostles.

The film is at its most fascinating as it peels apart the very real divisions of Israeli society and norms. The connection with the violence in the region and lasting emotional challenges of maintaining the current status quo are made manifest, surely magnified by all that transpired after Shadur’s cameras stopped rolling and the film was locked. Similarly, the inclusion of former prime ministers and defence personnel pushing for legalization within regulatory frameworks and playing by the rules of conventional capitalism, is made all the more surreal given how the same voices have been called upon to speak to far more complex and darker issues.

Silver’s journey therefore feels epic and transformative, at once a pioneer in freeing his society from its outmoded views on cannabis use and, on the other hand, a grandiose figure whose hubris caused his eventual downfall. There are real, powerful questions raised by Silver’s tale, and the film does an excellent job at articulating them from a wide variety of perspectives, never once falling for mere hagiography. And yet, it’s almost impossible to see these conflicts as substantive given all that’s happened over the last months, mere trivialities when the same PM calling for legalization is now disallowed from travelling without fear of arrest after ICC court rulings.

In an odd way, it will be a blessing when the biggest debates in Israeli politics will be about the legalization of recreational drugs, when the likes of Supreme Court emasculation are trumped by massive war operations following a cataclysmic failure of military intelligence. That the issues of this film have been trumped by subsequent events is no fault of Shadur’s film, of course. If anything, it’s an exceptional testament to the multicoloured aspects of Israeli society far too often glossed over both by its enemies and so-called supporters alike.

The result is a satisfying deep dive for those unexposed to Silver’s journey (this writer included), a remarkably nuanced look at a mercurial subject who truly does fascinate. Silver’s Uprising does an excellent job in bringing this story to a world that, perhaps in time, will be ready to listen again and begin to answer complicated of questions that have been sidelined for other, even more existentially threatening, concerns.


Silver’s Uprising plays the Toronto Jewish Film Festival on June 9.



Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor/Chief Critic at and a regular contributor for POV Magazine, and CBC Radio. His has written for Slashfilm, Esquire, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Screen Anarchy, HighDefDigest, Birth.Movies.Death, IndieWire and more. He has appeared on CTV NewsChannel, CP24, and many other broadcasters. He has been a jury member at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival, RiverRun Film Festival, TIFF Canada's Top 10, Reel Asian and Fantasia's New Flesh Award. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years.

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