Filmmakers Who Are Ultra Orthodox and Ultra Committed
AT the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot this month, dozens of Israeli women in the insular world of the ultra-Orthodox Haredim had an extra bounty to celebrate: an opportunity to go to the movies.
Films for and by Haredi women were relatively unknown outside this tightknit faction until the director Rama Burshtein unveiled her feature ‘Fill the Void’ at the Venice Film Festival last month. The film, which earned the ingénue Hadas Yaron a best-actress honor there and later played the New York Film Festival, was praised by critics, who noted that Ms. Burshtein’s technical expertise belied her sparse résumé.
In fact, while ‘Fill the Void’ was Ms. Burshtein’s first film for secular as well as religious viewers, she has spent nearly two decades making movies for the women of her sect — films featuring only actresses and without violence, sex and swearing. And she wasn’t alone: Ultra-Orthodox women in Israel have been making movies for some time now — about six a year — according to strict Haredi rules: Men and women may never be shown together on screen; plotlines considered subversive or counter to Haredi beliefs are forbidden; and when the credits roll, the audience must have a lesson or moral to take home. The rules also mean that audiences are strictly segregated by sex.
Male Haredi directors have long been making films (to be seen by men and boys only) with the help of a few production houses. Films by women, however, are still self-financed. They are shown at wedding halls during breaks from school and the holiday periods of Sukkot, Hanukkah and Passover. And though the Haredim shun aspects of modernity, the banquet-hall plastic seats are packed for the showings.