FRF's Judith Mizrachy interviews Oren Rudavsky, co-director of the films HIDING AND SEEKING and A LIFE APART.
Judith: One of the remarkable aspects of A LIFE APART is the access you were able to get to a community that seems so closed to outsiders.
Did you meet with any resistance during filming, or was the Hasidic community
generally willing to be filmed and interviewed?
Oren: We spent a lot of time in the community before beginning
to film. Also, significantly, Menachem grew up in the community and lives in
Boro Park. His father is a well respected member of the Ger Hasidic community.
Both of us are Jewish which certainly helps and kindly disposed towards the
community. People see this right away. Also the film was made shortly after
the Crown Heights riots and the press was generally negative towards the community.
I think people saw this as an opportunity to set the record straight. Nevertheless,
for every character who gave us access, there were many wonderful people who
would only speak to us and not allow filming. And there were many occasions
where we thought we had permission but where we were told we had to leave. Occasionally
we were thrown out of certain events. At the same time we were also warmly welcomed
Judith: How did the Hasidic community react to the completed
Oren: The response to the film from within the Hasidic community
has been extraordinarily positive. We held screenings throughout the Hasidic
communities in New York and had an overwhelming response with multiple sold-out
screenings. There were criticisms, mainly from women who wanted to explain that
they are more mainstreamed than the film expressed.
Judith: Tolerance and intolerance are key themes in both A
LIFE APART and HIDING AND SEEKING. Why are these ideas
so central to your work?
Oren: The themes of tolerance and intolerance are so central
to our society today and the struggle between tradition and modernity is ripping
this world apart. It is the struggle that Menachem and I engage in every day,
in our own lives and as we work to make films together. We are all trying to
make sense of this struggle or choosing one over the other. It’s easy
if you choose, but if you decide there is virtue in both the traditional world
and the modern world, well then you’ve got a struggle with no easy answers.
It’s what we saw our mothers and fathers struggling with and one that
we deal with every day with our children.
Judith: The message of tolerance in HIDING AND SEEKING seems particularly relevant now, when, as you say in the film, all “religion
is in danger of being hijacked by extremists.” Why do you think religious
extremism and hatred of outsiders is such a problem now in this country and
Oren: You know that the answer to this question would take
a 300 page book, one we are trying to write for HarperCollins right now. We
are trying to answer the question for ourselves and our community. We hope this
will lead to others questioning their own community’s beliefs. We can’t
speak for the world’s problems without being simplistic or trite. Suffice
it to say that living in the modern world is very, very difficult and when people
get weak they seek an easy enemy. And we all get weak.
Judith: Documentary filmmaking must produce a lot of surprises.
Which events that unfolded during the making of HIDING AND SEEKING surprised
you the most?
Oren: I guess when Mrs. Mucha walked out of her house that
was a big surprise as was finding the tombstone of Menachem’s great grandmother
in the cemetery in Zdunska Wola. God was on our side when we made this film