Tag : ultra-Orthodox

The Lilith Blog

August 1, 2019 by

Making “Black Hat”: Director Sarah Smith Tells All

As a Lutheran growing up in Minnesota, Sarah Smith had no way to anticipate that she would one day direct a film about a gay-curious Hasidic man living in Los Angeles. But her award-winning film,” “Black Hat” zeroes in on Shmuel [played by Adam Silver], a married father, whose wife and kids are visiting out-of-state relatives. Suddenly footloose, the devoutly observant Shmuel allows himself a brief foray into gay L.A. where he meets Jay [Sebastian Velmont], a man who lives without the constraints of community expectations. What ensues is tender, provocative, and open-ended, a tiny glimpse into a world that is all-too-often exoticized and ridiculed. In a short 14 minutes, the film—written by Phillip Guttmann, produced by Yaniv Rokah, and co-produced by Loriel Samaras and Guttmann—tells a compelling and fresh story.  Eleanor J. Bader spoke to Sarah Smith by phone in June.

Eleanor J. Bader: Were you familiar with ultra-Orthodox or Hasidic Jews before directing “Black Hat”?

Sarah Smith: I first came to New York from a suburb of Minneapolis to attend New York University and stayed in the City for nine years. At first, I felt some culture shock, but by the time I directed the film, I had familiarity with the community. From 2002 to 2006, I worked as a writers’ assistant at the now-closed JC Studios in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. While there, I’d encountered many Hasidic and Orthodox people and had learned a little bit about them.

EJB: A number of recent feature films have introduced Hasidic life to mainstream audiences. How does “Black Hat” fit into this genre?

SS: There are a range of films about Hasidim. Some condemn the community and others just tell a story. Disobedience falls into this latter category.

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July 9, 2019 by

Shtisel, on Netflix

Voices- Shtisel

The show, which was created by two men with intimate knowledge of the Haredi community, mines drama from the restrictions of ultra-Orthodox life but doesn’t suggest that its central characters want or need to escape. It’s not, like most other depictions of the Haredim, about the desire to leave the confines of their society but rather about the ordinary pains and joys of living within it.

…The series, which first aired in Israel on the satellite-broadcasting channel Yes, in 2013, introduces us to the Shtisel family exactly a year after the matriarch of the family has died. The son, Akiva, is a dreamy alter, or “aging bachelor,” of twenty-four, who draws in secret. He takes a job as a substitute teacher at a school where his father teaches and falls in love with Elisheva, an older, widowed mother of one of his students. Shulem, the father, is a man of creature comforts who always seems to be eating. When the series opens, he transfers his mother to a nursing home where, for the first time in her life, she owns a television. The stalest reality show becomes, in her telling, a Talmudic feat: “There is a tribunal of scholars who teaches them how to sing!” she tells Shulem breathlessly. Akiva’s sister Giti is married to a kosher butcher who goes rogue in Argentina, leaving her to care for their five children alone. The couple’s eldest daughter is Ruchami, a beautifully drawn teen-age bibliophile who, at night, reads to her brothers from what she calls “Hannah Karenina.”

“Shtisel” is generous, lighthearted, and nostalgic—even when the origins of its nostalgia remain elusive. It is also a little old-fashioned, not only because of its subject matter but because of its situational structure. Things happen and cease to happen to the characters within a single episode: an illness, a robbery. It’s drama dressed as a sitcom.

RUTH MARGALIT, “Seeing Inside the Israeli Ultra-Orthodox Community on the Netflix Series ‘Shtisel’,” newyorker.com, April 14, 2019.

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