An Israeli film, Fill The Void was directed by Rama Burshtein who also wrote the script. It is Israel’s entry to the Best Foreign Language category of the Oscars for the 85th Academy Awards.
The movie depicts the life in the Haredi Jewish community in the capital city of Tel Aviv. The story focuses on Rabbi Ahron whose daughter dies due to childbirth. The Rabbi’s wife forces the younger daughter to marry the widower of her sister.
Israeli women in the ultra-Orthodox Haredim are now given the opportunity to watch movies simply because Fill The Void was directed by a woman. Although it is Ms. Burshtein’s first film, it had already won
the minds of movie critics.
In the Haredi culture, men and women cannot be shown on the screen together. No need to say that in watching a movie, men and women are segregated. Gender is a big issue in the Jewish sect of Haredi.
Some, although few, production outfits have been producing movies directed by male directors. But with women filmmakers, they have to put up their own funding because their movies could only be shown during occasions.
Haredi film director Rama Burshtein during the Venice Film Festival. (photo from bigstory.ap.org)
Also discouraged is the use of a plot that is anathema to their culture. Of course, violence is taboo, likewise with sex and obscenities. Those restrictions pose a huge challenge to scriptwriters and filmmakers.
The Haredi Jewish community in Tel Aviv doesn’t watch TV so they are excited to see a movie during the holidays. Dina Perlstein, a mother and housewife residing in an ultra-Orthodox commune, had made 8 films already.
And with the coming Sukkot, the Jewish holiday feast of tabernacle, Ms. Perlstein is expecting not only to recoup her investment but also earn a profit. Tickets for her movie Thin Ice has a tag price that is equivalent to $13.
Ms. Perlstein is an accomplished director of sorts because, for a Haredi director, her films mostly earn profits. After showing in Israel, her films would have public exhibitions in the US and Europe.
Ruchama Mandl, another woman filmmaker, always consults their rabbi regarding her movie production. In their sect, the Rabbis are the one to decide a kosher cinema is. (Kosher is the prescribed Jewish food – actually the equivalent of Halal in Islam.)
But Ms. Mandl had a sad experience to share. Her movie Closed was classified unfit for younger audiences by her Rabbi. Although it was pre-approved, the reversal of decision came after the Rabbi had watched
The Dreamers, a docu on female filmmakers.
With the classification, Ms. Mandl and her husband is now repaying the loan of $13,000 which she used in making Closed. Her movie has a tinge of rebellion by a teenage girl against her mother.
Despite the setbacks, some women directors still continue with their passion of making movies. “The secret lies in being stubborn,” according to Marlyn Vinig, a female film instructor who wrote Orthodox Cinema,
a book on local filmmaking.
With the limitations, stage acting is more popular than filmmaking to the Haredim. Israel has film schools but not for the Haredim whose girls are offered with vocational courses and seminaries to prepare them for marriage.
Segev Cohen, the school director of Torat HaChaim film school in Israel, looks at film as an instrument to spread biblical teachings. And as per their culture, students are in separate buildings even with the same courses of studies.
Ma’aleh School of Television, Film and the Arts in Jerusalem is more liberal as far as gender segregation is concerned. It allows men and women in the same class (and classroom) although there is strict implementation of rabbi teaching and policies.
With the imposed restrictions, most female filmmakers learn the trade with their own devices. Mostly by trial and error, the technology exchange among female directors in the Haredi sect is prevalent.
Having attended Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, a prestigious learning center in Jerusalem, Rama Burshtein is considered a mentor of female filmmakers. Her movie Fill The Void is an eye opener for the ultra religious in the Jewish community.
Ms. Burshtein is an inspiration to other women directors, said Ms. Mandl, because Ms. Burshtein had shared a lot of knowledge to them. But Ms. Burshtein said that she is still in the learning stage.
Fill The Void won for Hadas Yaron the Best Actress trophy at the 69th Venice International Film Festival.
Incidentally, Tel Aviv is experiencing continual bombings. For their safety, Filipinos have been evacuating to Jerusalem and some other safe places.
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