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 by many.

Judith: How did the Hasidic community react to the completed film?

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 elsewhere?

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 big time.