In 2013, a Hasidic filmmaker took the world by storm with her critically acclaimed feature length film, Fill the Void. It was distributed by Sony Pictures and premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Its writer-director, Rama Burstein, is a hasidic baalas teshuva, whose newest effort, The Wedding Plan, comes out this weekend (it opens May 12 in NY and May 19 in LA). Having won the Israeli Oscar for Fill the Void, she is the first hasidic woman to do so.
Her new film came to Burshtein as a surprise, just as her first one did. When promoting Fill the Void, she was traveling a lot so she wrote The Wedding Plan on the plane. After the success of Fill the Void, getting the financing for this new film was a much easier process, although it took 4 years to complete it. The basic plot of the film is that a girl with a broken engagement decides not to cancel the wedding despite not having a groom. Burshtein says of the premise, “You can see it that she’s not squeezing God’s hand…she’s more into believing that God can do anything.” This closely follows Burshtein’s own struggle. “It’s a film about possibility more than about sticking to a date.” Burshtein works closely with her cast and crew to make the films an intimate, seamless experience. She was thrilled to create a film about this topic. “What could be bad in getting married? It has to be only good.” Breaking down the pessimism is a very important theme for Burshtein.
With this film, Burshtein chose to show a baalas teshuva instead of a frum-from-birth character. Because she comes from the secular world, this more closely mirrors her own story. As a hasidic woman filmmaker, Burshtein feels that she is limited by the fear of limiting herself to a stereotype, genre or subject matter. “We have to invent ourselves again and again. If I make another film in the hasidic world, they will say we saw that already. We don’t have the privilege of doing what we feel like doing.” Burshtein wrote another script before this one, and because it was set in a hasidic world in New York, she put it aside, perhaps to address again in the future.
A lead actor in The Wedding Plan was ignited Jewishly by the experience of making the film. In the two films that Burshtein has done, her cast has worked intensely with Orthodox jews. “They don’t become religious that I know of, but they do become believers. My role isn’t to make them become baalei teshuva. My role is to help them see that they are believers, then they have to find their own way.” Burshtein grew up secular between New York and Israel, and became religious in her twenties. “You’re either a seeker, or you’re not. I didn’t think that Judaism had the answers for me, I didn’t see it as spiritual.”
A few months after she graduated from film school, she realized that the answers to her questions about life were all there. “I went to a Shabbos meal totally secular and the Shabbos after, I was totally religious.” She was so uninterested in Orthodox Judaism growing up, that there were no misconceptions to be had. Now, Burshtein doesn’t try to model a world or break down people’s notions about Orthodoxy, per se, she is just a storyteller who happens to be a believer in Hashem. “I don’t have a public agenda, and I think this is why people are able to listen to what I’m saying. This is my secret. Why my voice is heard strongly around the world.”
Burshtein was shocked at the success of her work in a wider audience. “From the beginning, my audience has been secular Jews.” Later, she learned that frum Jews and non-Jews were also fans of her work. Her producer is a self-professed atheist and was also shocked by the reach of Burshtein’s audience. “Hashem just decided that they should do [well]. It’s nothing that I can take credit for. There’s nothing that I did to make it such a success.” Burshtein relates what the reaction of the Orthodox community has been to her work. “For a lot of them, this was their first time in a movie theater.” The positive reaction shocked her. The reaction from the secular world was that it was easier for them to understand the story. “They’re [charedi Jews] not as open. They are afraid that the outside world will think we are crazy or extreme, that I’m not modeling the world the way that it should be. The secular people just get the story.” Some secular people have gone to see The Wedding Plan multiple times, to Burshtein’s delight. It is intended for that audience. “If I had to do a film for someone that doesn’t see so many films, I would do it differently.”
Burshtein gets a lot of fan mail that tells her how her films have inspired them to look at religious Jews differently. “They are more curious about us. They are interested.” She is starting to work on a television series as well. “I can say that God is the king and can do anything, but when it comes to my problems, sometimes I feel [that they are bigger than God]. This journey of the main character in The Wedding Plan is to come to believe that God can do anything…There’s no problem for Hashem. We should believe that it’s possible.”
30 Days. 1 Wedding. No Groom. " The Wedding Plan delivers a religious film with the heartbeat of a crowd-pleaser.” Now playing in select cites. http://fandan.co/2pH426f
Posted by The Wedding Plan on Friday, February 10, 2017