March 3, 2015
This month we feature director David Formentin’s gritty narrative short TZNIUT in our Selected Online Short Series. The film screened at SFJFF34 and had its World Premiere in 2014 at SXSW.
“Tzniut”, from the Hebrew meaning “modesty or privacy; the laws pertaining to a modest life” provides a dash of darkly tragic irony as the title to the film, in which a Hasidic woman in Brooklyn discovers she has an STD. Although limited by her social standing in a deeply orthodox community, she seeks the origin of her illness.
What inspired you to make this film?
I live quite deep in Brooklyn, so in traveling out of my neighborhood for work, I pass through the Hassidic community quite frequently. There was always something mysterious about them and their culture, which I learned later is mostly on purpose. It was just always intriguing to me that in such a huge place like Brooklyn with everyone mixed together that their culture could remain so strict, pure, old fashioned despite the rapid changes going on around all of us. I’m not currently, nor was raised Jewish, but religion played a huge part in my college studies and has fascinated me for years, and it was a really incredible challenge to explore a culture and a faith I knew very little about. And I also like well-crafted, heavily-plotted noir films, so I figured these two mysterious things would go together well.
What was your greatest challenge during the filmmaking process?
All the standard challenges of making a low budget short. I have to say that for as cheaply and quickly as we made this film, there weren’t a whole lot of big issues to overcome; everything worked out quite beautifully. It was easy to get the dialogue translated, to find someone to pronounce it and spell it phonetically, Louisa (the lead) came to rehearsal knowing it all by heart. My producers made everything easy and possible. It was such a pleasant and rewarding experience that I can’t remember any problem that wasn’t a pleasure to figure out.
Any thoughts you’d like to share about screening this film in a Jewish context?
American Judaism and Jewish identity are so multifaceted and I’m not any sort of expert, so I don’t want to speak out of turn. But it’s been interesting to meet people at screenings that have all different ideas about who these people are. I don’t know if all American Jews have experience with super-orthodox sects in their communities like I know exist in New York and Los Angeles, so I’m interested to see what people think. That said, I’m hoping the film is perceived more as an exploration and not a condemnation, which was never the intent.
What film/media has inspired you lately?
I’m in the writing stage of a feature film right now and it’s always astounding to realize, even if I didn’t think two works were similar, how helpful all different kinds of movies are to whatever you might be making. This week, everything is inspiring to me, everything is worth learning from.
What do you do when you’re not filmmaking?
Working on the next film, watching films, making paid work and I very much like to cook.
Lastly, gefilte fish: delicious, or disgusting?
I have never had it, but it has a strange look to it. Maybe a re-branding is in order? I’m sure it’s not that bad.