February 22, 2007

Hi. This is the first email update for the film "Lonely Man of Faith: The Life and Legacy of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik".  I apologize that it has taken so long.

If you are receiving this email, it means that either you signed up on the email list for my film at a screening or on the website, someone else signed you up, or you're a friend or family member of mine and I signed you up :-).
Thank you to all of those who have signed up.  As of the last count, there were over 800 people on this list!

First of all, in case you don't know, the film, "Lonely Man of Faith" tells the moving story of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the famous rabbinic scholar, who battled ignorance, extremism, corruption, and loneliness, to make a lasting impact on the American Jewish community.  The film is narrated by Tovah Feldshuh and includes readings by Theodore Bikel.  

I should also tell you at the outset that there is a website with up-to-date information on the film and where it is playing next: <http://www.lonelymanoffaith.com>

The next screening of the film will be this Sunday, February 25, at the Charles Theater in Baltimore, together with Baltimore Hebrew University.  The address is 1711 N. Charles Ave.  The screening will start at 2 PM (well before the Oscars).  I just checked and there are several seats left, so please tell your friends and family.  I recommend they get a ticket soon.  To purchase tickets, contact Elaine Eckstein at 410-578-6905 or eeckstein@bhu.edu.

Then, there will be a special screening put together by Yeshiva University and Mizrachi, in Montreal, on Monday, March 12, at 7:30 PM, at the Gelber Conference Centre.  Rabbi Kenneth Brander will offer some remarks.  For info or reservations, contact (514) 483-3660 or Mizrachi@can.rogers.com.

Sunday, March 18, will be the Pennsylvania Premiere, at the Pittsburgh Jewish-Israeli Film Festival.  

Monday, March 19, the film will play as part of the Jacob Burns Film Center Jewish film series, in Pleasantville, Westchester, New York.  I understand that President Richard Joel, of Yeshiva University, will participate in an after-discussion.

Wednesday, March 21, is the New Jersey Premiere, at the New Jersey Jewish Film Festival in West Orange, NJ.  

I will give you more information on these and future screenings as those dates approach.

Now, before I give you a brief overview of where the film has been, let me explain a few things.

This film was intended for two audiences: Those who already know who the Rav was and those who do not.  I wanted to make a film that could speak to someone who may first encounter Orthodoxy by flipping on the TV and finding this film on PBS (I hope :-)  and someone who sat in the Rav’s shiur (classroom) for ten years.  In order to make sure the film was authentic, I spoke to as many people as I could, including students, family members, friends, scholars, and so on, and I tried to read as much as I could by and about him.  In order to ensure that the film would be accessible to a wider audience, I worked with a talented writer, editor, researcher, director of photography, composer, executive producer, etc., many of whom are not from the Orthodox Jewish world.  And they helped me craft a story that could speak on a more universal level.  The key, of course, was to balance the accessibility with authenticity, to neither water the content down too much nor turn it into something too cryptic.  

In an effort to reach a wider audience, we are hoping to have a limited theatrical run, at least in cities with major Jewish populations (i.e. New York-New Jersey, L.A., Chicago, Miami, etc.).   This, in my estimation, is one of the only ways to draw an audience beyond the “niche”: observant  Orthodox Jews.  But it remains to be seen whether this can be done, since it is a very difficult and costly process.

Only once this has been attempted can the film start to be shown at synagogues and schools.  I’ve gotten a lot of requests to show the film  — from over fifty such places throughout North America, Israel, the U.K, Switzerland, and Australia.  But, I have to ask everyone to hold off until we can determine what happens theatrically.  Otherwise, we risk chipping away at the potential audience — one that is vital in order to keep the film in theaters for the minimal amount of time.  (In the meantime, however, you are all welcome to have your organizations contact me, and I will add them to the growing list.)

So, most of the screenings that have taken place so far, and over the next couple of months have been aimed to get the word out and build excitement.  Hopefully those who have seen the film — many of you — will recommend it to their friends and family, and that, in turn, will lead to a good turnout.

We are also working on securing a television broadcast of the film, at some point.  I think the most likely home for the film will be public television, but it remains to be seen whether broadcasters will be interested.

Many of you have asked how you can purchase the film on DVD.  Like every film, the DVD version will not be available until it has had a chance to play in theaters.  This probably won’t happen for a good 6 – 12 months.

Related to this topic, I wanted to also say that it has been a real struggle, keeping in mind the above dual-objective, and deciding what to keep and what to take out of the film.  I had originally planned on providing a much more comprehensive overview of the world of lomdus (in-depth Talmud study), the Rav’s philosophical thought, the socio-historical context for Orthodoxy in America, and the Rav’s biography.  Ultimately, there was only so much we could fit into an hour and forty minutes.  It is therefore my hope that, when the film is available on DVD, there will be an expanded treatment of much of this content.  

Also, there were something like 23 interviews in all, ranging from 1.5 – 3.5 hours each.  There was a tremendous amount of fascinating material that had to be cut, in the interests of time.   Many of the above subjects were explored, and many of the interview subjects discussed their own background, as well as their personal relationship with the Rav.  In fact, there were a few people interviewed who never even made it into the film.   An expanded DVD will hopefully provide much of this important subject matter, and it will be up to the viewer to explore it on his/her own time.  But, again, that will have to wait until the time is right.

So, now, an overview of where the film has been:

"Lonely Man of Faith" premiered on November 9, 2006, at the Boston Jewish Film Festival.  We had a sold-out crowd of something like 350 people, and the reception was very positive.  There was a great turnout from the Maimonides School community, and they threw a small reception
beforehand, near the museum.  This was a very memorable screening for me, not only because it was the first, but because this was the "hometown crowd" -- people who grew up seeing Rabbi Soloveitchik in the community on a regular basis, many who attended the school he and his wife had founded.  There was also some decent press coverage in the Boston Globe (which contained an interview with me) and the Boston Jewish Advocate.  Both of these articles are posted on the site.  

Later, that month, I showed the film three times in Israel.  The first was at the National Convention of the Orthodox Union, at a hotel in Jerusalem.  A packed room of 500-800 people were frozen in place for the entire screening.  Afterwards, there was a panel discussion in which close students of the Rav spoke about the film and their teacher's legacy.  Mr. Juli Berman, R. Hershel Schachter (interviewee), and R. Menachem Genack (advisor) participated in this fascinating discussion.  

The film screened twice more in Israel, together with Yeshiva University's office, there.  Both were sold out.  Rabbi Rakeffet (senior advisor) spoke
at both events, and it was a very special moment for him.  He talked about some of his past difficulties at getting this project off the ground, and expressed his joy at the completion of the film after long last.  At the Jerusalem screening, the Rav's two sisters were there (Ann Gerber, interviewee, and Shulamith Meiselman) along with family members, as well as Chaim Waxman (interviewee), and Ronnie Zielger (advisor).  

Shortly after, the film screened in Toronto, at the Torah in Motion conference on Rabbi Soloveitchik.  I was told that there were at least four
celebrations going that night, in the community, so the organizers were not sure that they would get many more than the 90 people who had
pre-registered.  250 showed up.  That Sunday, there were a number of sessions given by different scholars, including R. Shalom Carmy (interviewee/advisor), Dr. David Shatz (advisor), and Dr. Arnold Lustiger (editor of "Before Hashem You Shall Be Purified").  I participated on a panel with them about the Rav's legacy, and tried to balance their answers with biographical info and personal accounts.

The film played at the Washington Jewish Film Festival, in D.C., to an oversold house.  Afterwards, there was a panel discussion, including R. William Millen, from Boston, and R. Jack Bieler, a local educator / student of the Rav.  The most memorable part was when R. Millen told the story of when he was a little boy, and he heard someone describe this new school, Maimonides.  When his parents heard that R. Soloveitchik was behind it, they immediately signed up their son.  Millen became the first student at the school.

Next, the film played in Los Angeles, as part of the Orthodox Union's West Coast Convention.  We had a packed house at the theater of the
Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance.  This was a nice screening for me, because much of the audience consisted of people who have known me my entire life.  The panel, afterward, consisted of R. Hershel Schachter (interviewee), R. Shlomo Riskin, of Efrat, Israel, and myself.  It was moderated by R. Elazar Muskin, the rabbi of my family synagogue, and himself a student of the Rav.  The rabbis spent much of the time telling captivating stories about their experience as students, and afterwards as rabbis under the Rav's guidance. R. Riskin's first comments were that he was overwhelmed -- he felt almost as if the Rav had been brought back to life!

The next two Jewish Film Festivals were in Portland, Oregon, and Atlanta, Georgia.  The first had a turnout of around 150-200 people.  There was a full spectrum of people, from Chabad Hassidim to Jews of a more liberal persuasion, to people who were not Jewish as well.  The Atlanta screening was either sold out or close to it.  Michael Berger, Associate Professor of Religion at Emory University, participated in an interesting after-discussion.

There were several preview screenings in communities where Rabbi Rakeffet served as a scholar-in-residence, in Boca Raton, Florida; Oceanside, NY; and Mount Kisco, NY.

February 3rd was the long-awaited New York Premiere at Yeshiva University.  No less than 1200 people attended the sold-out event at Lamport Auditorium, where the Rav himself used to deliver his derashas (public lectures)!  Despite some technical difficulties, the evening went rather well.  Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Chancellor of Y.U.,  and Zevulun Charlop, Dean of RIETS, spoke before and after the film, and there was a terrific after-panel consisting of Rabbis Menachem Genack (advisor), Hershel Schachter (interviewee), and Mayer Twersky, which was moderated by Rabbi Kenny Brander.  For more information on this, there are three articles you can check out on the website.  The discussion was taped, by the way, and will eventually be posted on http://www.yutorah.org/.  Of course, it was a very special event, both for the film and the school (and hopefully, the audience).

Well, that’s all for now.  Stay tuned for more updates, hopefully more regularly, now.

Take care and have a Happy Purim!

Ethan Isenberg
Second Look Productions