No need to whisper: do you have the write stuff?


There is a tendency sometimes within Judaism to whisper. About our religion, our relations with each other, family issues, societal problems, even towering achievements in business, culture and elsewhere. A result, perhaps, of a natural reticence passed down through generations.

But that is changing and nowhere is that transformation more apparent than in cinema - an arena in which the power to extend people's emotional vocabulary is often unsurpassed. From my privileged position as founder and executive director of Jewish Film, I can see a new determination to explore cultural and familial themes that may once have been only whispered about.

The films that are being made by a new generation of film-makers - who themselves are influencing their more mature peers - are not just adverts for culture or even the travelogues that were the norm from a less sophisticated era of film-making.

They are steeped in a rich and sometimes raw realism. They often show a more difficult side to Jewish life - that we are both poor and rich, have criminal and saintly sides, that there are broken families as well as extraordinarily nurturing ones.

Today, that whispering has been replaced by a far more open and sometimes provocative expressiveness about people's real experiences - and it is this that has helped to define both the Jewish influence on the UK film industry and the Pears Short Film Fund, which is part of UK Jewish Film.

At the recent and highly successful 18th UK Jewish Film Festival, more than 90 new films with Jewish themes were screened. And some of the highlights were the wonderful short films - in particular, 2014's two winning Short Film Fund movies were given their world première and received huge applause. Now in its ninth year, the Fund is once again open for short film scripts and the final deadline to submit fiction and documentary scripts for the 2015 applications closes on December 31. We have producers and directors on hand to help turn scripts into reality.

Short films are a wonderful way for new film-makers to start, or further, their careers. By applying to the Fund with a script with a Jewish theme - whether you are a Jewish director or not - you could be one of the two winners receiving £10,000 to get your short film made and premièred at the UKJF.

The experience of former winners has been tremendous. The Fund's 2008 film, Sydney Turtlebaum went on to be shortlisted for an Oscar nomination - and many other winning Fund shorts get shown around the world.

Even those that miss out may find that, with willpower and enthusiasm, their scripts find funding elsewhere. This year's winners were The Divorce by brothers David and Danny Sheinmann; and Samuel-613 written and directed by non-Jewish filmmaker Billy Lumby and the first fictional film shot in Stamford Hill's Chasidic community with the participation of its members and with Yiddish dialogue. Through these kinds of films, people are not hiding aspects of their Judaism any more, they are showing immense pride, using the power of film to analyse their Jewish identity - within their community and outside it.

Younger and older filmmakers are being more creative and open, noticing and learning from each other, helping to pull each other from their comfort zones, exploring the intensity and truth about people's relationships with their friends and family, thinking outside of the box and speaking out, trying to change our perspectives with strong images and even stronger storytelling. This is why Jewish cinema is more influential than it has ever been, opening a window to allow us a glimpse of the many sides of life that we may once have whispered about but now explore with enormous enthusiasm.

We can be proud that Jewish life has colour and holds enormous fascination, both for us as Jews and also for those who want to explore and learn about Jewish people through the medium of film.

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