One afternoon this past winter, I waited at a café in Boro Park for Yuta Silverman, an ambitious young filmmaker who lives in the neighborhood. Although I had watched four of her films in one week, I didn’t know what to expect. But when a beautiful red-haired woman entered with a beaming smile and an open, friendly face, I immediately recognized her as the star of Sheffield’s Manor, a film about a group of girls hiding in a Red-Cross house during the Holocaust that she wrote a few years ago in only three days and produced at almost no cost.
How, I wanted to know, did a religious girl from the Bais Yaakov yeshiva system become a filmmaker? “I woke up one day and told my family ‘I’m going to make a film,’ ” Silverman told me, matter-of-factly. Six years ago, without experience or expertise, she began making cold calls to people in the film industry she had heard of—both Orthodox and secular documentarians. She stumbled upon a small production company called Cicala Filmworks, and when Silverman met the director Stefan Schaefer she knew instantly she wanted to work with him. They hashed out some ideas and came up with a story based on her experience of befriending a Muslim colleague as a teacher at a Brooklyn school. The result was Arranged, a feature film with a frum lead character but intended for a secular audience, and that quickly became a hit on the Jewish film-festival circuit. Although Silverman wasn’t involved in the actual filmmaking aspects—that was left to Schaefer and his crew—she was an integral part of the creative team and through this discovered a love of filmmaking and a desire to create them for her own community.
But if Silverman’s path is unique, she is hardly alone these days. Indeed, Silverman and others like her are taking inspiration from Dina Pearlstein, considered the grande dame of frum filmmakers in Israel, who was one of the first ultra-Orthodox women to venture into this industry and also a rare example of someone who makes money from a small niche market. Pearlstein makes her films in both Hebrew and English versions and shows them all over the world, especially during the intermediate days of the Passover and Sukkot holidays when women-only screenings are popular. She and other religious female filmmakers are discovering what their audiences crave—suspenseful melodrama—and are working within the shifting confines of what religious authorities consider to be appropriate material to make movies for women who may have never seen a movie before.
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