|Directed by:||Aran Patinkin||Rating:||TV-PG|
|Release Date:||2007||Running Time:||52 mins.|
|Language:||Hebrew (English Subtitles)||Genre:||Documentary|
|More Info:||NY Times article: "A Modern Marketplace for Israel's Ultra Orthodox"||Category:||Israel|
Secular values are seeping into ultra-Orthodox homes as computers and movies become more and more prevalent in even the most sheltered communities. Profiling a stellar yeshiva student who abandoned his religious studies and cut his side-locks to take up a career in movie-making, Kosher Gefilte Film looks at how advanced media technology is changing the ultra-Orthodox community.
“Around the set Shalom is really soft and gentle. But when the cameras are rolling he’s all fire and brimstone,” one of Shalom’s actors says. “He could be Spielberg—the Orthodox Spielberg.”
Kosher Gefilte Film goes behind the set of Shalom’s newest film, “A Week Without Mother,” to reveal the challenges involved in making an film fit for an Orthodox audience. But it’s only recently that there is even such a thing as an Orthodox film, and Shalom’s personal history sheds light on what’s spurring the fledgling industry. In intimate interviews, he confesses the embarrassing scandal that encouraged him to embrace secular culture, and he shares his take on growing up in an insular Orthodox community in Jerusalem, where, he says, many of the people have never seen the sea or watched a television set, and for whom everything outside of their neighborhood seems far, far away.
For the first half of his life Shalom happily obeyed Orthodox tradition and didn’t think of questioning the rules. He was one of the top students at his yeshiva, and his parents had high expectations of him. “I loved studying!” he says.
But everything changed when a counselor at the yeshiva maliciously accused Shalom of being a homosexual. For a naive religious boy, the attack on his sexuality was especially confusing and painful. (This was a boy who didn’t realize women had different sex organs than men until he was seventeen.) And the accusation was unfounded—Shalom is now happily married. But at the time he felt ostracized from the yeshiva, discouraged from study, and he slowly began to slip away from the tradition to which he had previously clung.
Then one day he sneaked into a movie theater. The Man in the Iron Mask, the first secular movie he’d ever seen, changed his life forever. His side-locks became shorter and shorter, until they were gone. He took off his uniform of black suit and white shirt to wear “secular” clothing. He shaved off the beginnings of a beard that had grown on his teenage face. But because he still wanted to live according to the Torah, he kept one foot in the Orthodox world while stepping into the secular world. After abandoning his yeshiva studies, Shalom started producing a television show and movies for Orthodox viewers.
Shalom’s wedding is a perfect example of how he’s blended the religious and secular influences in his life. Shalom decided that if a streimel [a traditional Hasidic fur hat] was going to cost him $2,000, he might as well spend that money on a Giorgio Armani suit instead. During the reception men and women were seated separately, but Shalom hired a DJ to play modern dance music so people could dance out of traditional separate-gendered circles, breaking from Orthodox tradition.
When it comes to making movies, however, Shalom follows all the rules for Orthodox films: no romance, no vulgarity, and, hardest of all, no women. “Here’s a girl. Erase her!” he tells his film editor as they search the background for stray females that might have wandered into the shot. But Shalom’s editor doesn’t understand the sense in such edits. “When you understand girls aren’t bad, then we can make films,” he teases his director.
But Shalom has figured out a way to make films without women. “A Week without Mother” is a comedy that follows the misadventures of a father and his four sons after their mother’s gone off on a well-deserved vacation.
Filming gets a little tough, though, when a swarm of Orthodox kids gathers outside the set, hoping to catch a glimpse of the lead actor, a celebrity in their community. Their star might have side-locks and wear a yarmulke, but when a cluster of kids are ogling over him, the scene seems like it should be found in the secular world and not in an Orthodox neighborhood.