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33 of 34 found the following review helpful:
GATHER IN ALL THE EXILES...Dec 27, 2003
Winner of the Teddy Award of the 2001 Berlin Film festival and a 2001 Selection of the Sundance Film festival, this is a beautifully realized documentary that is devoted to the stories of those who are gay and lesbian within the Jewish Orthodox and Hasidic communities. Their stories and their struggles break the viewer's heart. It shows the lengths that people will go to try to reconcile their Jewish faith with its strictures regarding homosexuality and still remain a member of that religious community. Some of the stories are very sad, but all are, nonetheless, enlightening. People of all faiths should make it a point to see this film, because reconciliation of faith with one's sexual orientation is not limited to those who profess Judaism. It is a question with which Catholics, as well as those of other faiths, grapple.
Masterfully directed by Sandi Simcha Dubowski, the film boasts a wonderful, joyous soundtrack by John Zorn that conjures up the biblical underpinnings and zest of the Jewish faith. The filming of people behind a white screen so that they appear as dark silhouettes against a light backdrop, at times, to show moments in the religious life of those of the Jewish faith is also striking and very powerful, as well as aesthetically pleasing. This was done because so many who participated in this film refused to appear on screen, so as to avoid ostracism within their respective communities. The final result is visually mesmerizing.
It took the director six years to get enough people who dared to speak out on film about this issue. Some of them are out of the closet, but a number of them are not. Some of them, mostly women, are, in fact, married to a member of the opposite sex, despite their sexual orientation, mostly quite unhappily. How terrible for all parties concerned, as none have been able to achieve true communion with their spouses. Yet, many feel that living a lie is the only way to remain within their religious community, and for them this is preferable to ostracism from the only way of life they have ever known. Some have left their religious communities, but that, too, has been a road fraught with personal turmoil, as well as with emotional trauma and anguish. Others have stayed true to their natures, but still try to live a religious life, though they are no longer participating in the religious communities that have rejected them. Some have despaired and felt suicide to be their only alternative.
Some of the advice given to homosexual men by their rabbis so that these men may overcome their "affliction", for that is how homosexuality is perceived by many in the Orthodox and Hasidic communities, is quite startling. In the Jewish faith. strict construction of biblical texts holds that certain types of sexual intercourse constitutes an abomination. So, homosexual men are encouraged to marry women, despite their sexual orientation. Never mind that such men will also be unlikely to have a true communion with their wives. Yet, at the same time, many in these religious communities prefer that their daughters not marry such men. So there is some visceral, tacit acknowledgment that this is not a recipe for a good marriage. Behavior modification, aversion therapy, and psychotherapy are some of the other weapons the religious community uses to mount their campaign to correct one's sexual orientation. Some within these religious communities hold the antiquated belief that one's sexual orientation can be changed or sublimated.
The film provides much food for thought, and the topic is one that has been previously considered to be taboo. The issue of homosexuality within religious communities is now one that is ripe for discussion. The director has managed to bring the issue to the forefront in a tasteful, yet thought provoking way. The director is always mindful of the humanity of those whose stories he is telling. It is a humanity of which those in these religious communities should also be mindful, as all are made in the image of God.
This is a DVD worth having for those who are interested in different cultures or faiths within the construct of the issue that the film is exploring. It is a two disc, value laden DVD with crisp visuals and sound. Asides from the usual commentary and theatrical trailers, it has one disc entirely devoted to special features. It discusses the medieval rite of atonement for homosexual acts. It has an panel of prominent rabbis discussing their thoughts on the issues raised by the film. There is a special project in Israel that was established in the wake of this film and a number of panelists discuss their experiences with some of these issues. The director even has a featurette on his grandmother, who seems to be quite a character. All in all, this is a DVD worth having in one's personal collection. Bravo!
19 of 19 found the following review helpful:
What a documentary should beDec 06, 2004
Any documentary dealing with the subject of homosexuality is in danger of falling into the trap of advocacy for either side, thereby ignoring or demonizing the thinking and the experience of the opposing side. Typically, gays are portrayed as vulgar and shallow hedonists and religious people are portrayed as ignorant and intolerant rubes. This film avoids that trap entirely. It doesn't editorialize. It doesn't try to tie up loose ends. It has respect for the religious tradition that has led to the dilemna that the gay individuals are experiencing. It simply uses the camera as an objective eye into the lives of people we might never get to know. The effect of this approach is that we are allowed to see on our own the tradition and the individuals. As a result, the humanity of everyone is preserved and the value of the tradition is preserved. As a christian, I found the footage of orthodox culture fascinating. Scenes of yeshivas and orthodox weddings were totally new to me. This was a portrayal of a world I knew almost nothing about. Leave your knee-jerk reactions behind when you view this film and you will have your experience broadened.
18 of 19 found the following review helpful:
Finding RoomJan 20, 2004
By Robert Stribley
Sandi Simcha Dubowski has made a splendid, thoughtful documentary that captures perfectly the varying responses of individuals caught between the orientation they feel naturally aligned with and the belief system that omits or even condemns them: what is it like to be gay or lesbian who is an Orthodox or Hasidic Jew? Is there room for them in their own religion?
No single point of view is proffered as the correct one; instead each person's particular difficulties are laid out for our consideration. Some remain sympathetic to their faith; some have all but abandoned it.
As a former fundamentalist Christian, I identified with the inner struggle these people endured - the sometimes awful tension between what one has been raised to believe and what one's heart has come to intrinsically feel. And having known a few gays within fundamentalism, too, I have to wonder, how do they stay? What must their struggle be like?
Congratulations Mr. Dubowski on a fine and worthy effort.
14 of 15 found the following review helpful:
Documentary as Tikkun OlamSep 08, 2004
By Raymond Weil
No one has yet commented on the groundbreaking aspects of this film as a contribution to the documentary genre. Perhaps the subject matter was so compelling that people forgot that its rhetorical and structural elements were not invented ab nihilo, but are part of a very long and esteemed tradition. This film added extensively to the tradition that believes documentaries can change the world, not just bear witness to it.
I would also hope that viewers realize that this is not the last or only film on this topic, but one of the first, and that a flawed film is better by far than no film at all. It didn't have a Hollywood Ending especially for the individuals it portrayed who hoped it might be a catalyst for such an outcome - especially David. It may not satisfy everyone because it wasn't "fair and balanced", because it didn't attempt to be encyclopedic, because it couldn't hope to be unbiased except with respect to the empathy and sincerity it treated the people who appeared in it. There is no shanda (shame) in having a point of view. Yet how can you offer your work as Tikkun Olam when a community doesn't think there's anything in their life on the issue of sexuality and sexual identity that needs repairing? The isolated negative reactions of the conservative voices in the film and beyond are predictable because someone outside of their recognized authority structure is setting the agenda, exposing a neglected and painful issue, and they are forced to react. What is truly amazing is how the orthodox community's curiosity and sense of support for viewing the film and discussing it overcame their natural reticence and shame, and their leaders' sense that the time had come to make this very private issue a topic of public debate.
What is interesting is that it sought to give a voice to the individuals whose lives were as indelibly bound up in Jewish identity as they were without advocates, if not discreet acceptance, within that community. The true duress ("ones") was not what nature gave them to be - gays or lesbians - but how their families and communities of origin abandoned them, and in so doing, took away from themselves a part of G-d's creation.
I found the DVD's supplementary materials, especially the "road show" segment and the interviews with the rabbis to be extremely riveting. The rabbis were able in large part to tell personal stories of their experience with homosexuality in their communities and personal lives in a way that went beyond halachic and religious posturing.
8 of 8 found the following review helpful:
A 'Must Have' DVDMar 14, 2004
By R. Epstein
I saw this film when it was first released in cinemas and I thought it was good, perhaps warranting a 3 1/2 star rating.
The DVD experience brings this film up to 5 stars because there is SO much added material that gives one a deeper and broader understanding of the complexities of religion. Not just Judaism, I think every religion has as wide a spectrum of interpretation. There's over 3 hours of extras on the second disc, and I especially thought that the added comments by Rabbi Steve Greenberg (the openly gay orthodox Rabbi) and several of the other orthodox Rabbis featured in the film were extremely important. There is a pretty wide range of views and interpretations, which makes one realize just how cult-like orthodoxy can be in any religion if one is relying on just one particular religious leader for guidance. Most of the gay people interviewed in the film who were really suffering over how to accept who they are and still be a 'good Jew' were people who talked to Rabbis who were inflexible on accepting homosexuals. Five out of six of the rabbis interviewed on the second disc were able to understand that being gay is not a choice and therefore not a sin. They were still conservative overall, but their reasoning was very sound and certainly not some wish on their part to reconcile homosexuality with Judaism. The wonderful thing about Judaism is that the Torah is full of questioning and interpretation of God's laws. It teaches us that we have to look at the circumstances of the people who are living outside the parameter of God's law and see if they are really betraying God's law, or if they are essentially good people who are doing the best they can under the given circumstances.
The DVD also has a great 35-minute follow-up documentary on the effect this film has had around the world (and some terrific Klezmer music in the end credits!), and there are lots of other odds and ends that are entertaining and/or interesting. If you are a teacher or Rabbi who is considering showing this film to your students or community, make sure you show them this DVD version with the added interviews. At the very least, it will bring up some fascinating discussion!
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