|Directed by:||Shlomo Hazan||Rating:||TV-PG|
|Release Date:||2006||Running Time:||55 mins.|
|Language:||Hebrew (English subtitles)||Genre:||Documentary|
|More Info:||San Francisco Jewish Film Festival Website||Category:||Israel|
Watch the Trailer:
About the Film:
The “Hasidic Steven Spielberg” is torn between his passion for filmmaking and his socially conservative community that frowns upon it. Film Fanatic is the story of a man who struggles to make great films while still being accepted by his fellow ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jews, who don’t typically frequent the cineplex.
“When the Haredi were introduced to computer media there was nothing to show [on screen] except puppet shows,” explains Film Fanatic’s hero, Yehuda Grovais, of the lack of content available for a community that doesn’t own televisions sets and rarely goes to the movies. Seeking to fill this need, Grovais says, “I decided to make films.”
The worlds of the ultra-Orthodox and Hollywood might seem to be at definite odds, but Grovais has drawn from American cinema to produce more than 50 feature films for his fervently-religious community. Needless to say, catering to the ultra-Orthodox isn’t easy. The films struggle to find funding, and they face constant ridicule from rabbis. Not to mention the fact that the acting and directing is amateur; the filming schedule is always choppy and rushed because of breaks for morning, afternoon, and night prayer; and no woman can ever appear on screen — even in the far background of a shot. Unwilling to compromise his dreams or his faith, the pioneering filmmaker is constantly struggling to make a good film that ultra-Orthodox Jews will consider kosher.
Film Fanatic offers an uncomfortable look at the clash between mainstream Western beliefs and ultra-Orthodox doctrine. When Grovais is asked why he doesn’t show women in his movies, he responds bluntly, “I’m giving my clients what they want and demand.” And to a large degree, what his audience wants is consistent with Grovais’s own beliefs — that women shouldn’t be objectified, so they don’t belong on screen.
Typical of so many other Hollywood efforts, Grovais’s financier wants something entirely different. He insists that Grovais must invent a new cinema that transcends American influences and can speak to a universal audience. His financier understands that as long as Grovais’s scripts depict all gentiles as stupid drunkards and every religious person as a holy hero, Grovais is going to have a hard time finding real success. When this conflict reaches a head, Grovais must decide whether to compromise his art or his community.
Grovais is constantly pushing the boundaries of ultra-Orthodox acceptance, and to do so he must find loop-holes to tip-toe around strict doctrine. After rabbis ban attending the cinema in response to his films, it’s suggested that he replace the word “cinema” in advertisements with the word “screening” – and thus go on to film another day. And instead of showing a “movie” they’d advertise it as a “light-and-sound spectacle.” A good Haredi mother couldn’t go to a movie, the thinking goes, but why couldn’t she duck out of the house to see a light and sound spectacle?
Filmmaking has been both isolating and empowering for Grovais throughout his career. Rabbis hang nasty posters that say his movies come from Satan, and his shoots are interrupted by angry Haredi men, who stop to complain that Grovais is a bad influence on the children standing nearby, watching him direct.
But instead of allowing the constant criticism to beat him down, Grovais grows from it. “I don’t care what people think of me, I don’t care what people say about me,” he pronounces. Because Grovais loves his work, his skin is thick and his determination is unstoppable.
Ultimately, though, Grovais must return to the fundamental question: can he achieve both artistic glory and communal acceptance?
Film Fanatic points to the difficulty of being ultra-Orthodox in the modern age. One Jewish journalist who ultimately abandoned ultra-Orthodoxy in order to pursue his career praises Grovais for being independent and stirring up trouble. “I see Grovais as a person who broke out of the Haredi boundaries and exposed them to the technological progress in the world,” he says. In order to pursue his career, this journalist had to watch television and use the Internet. Instead of hiding his television, as many ultra-Orthodox do, he worked publicly and dropped his Haredi identity.
Which puts the questions back on Grovais. Is it possible for a man to pursue a modern dream without compromising his ancient beliefs? Which path will the director eventually choose: his faith or his passion?