The Jewish Film Institute is pleased to present The Mohel as our Online Short for the month of March 2023.
About the Film: Few rights in Judaism are as important as the Brit Milah — the circumcision. James and his wife Lola, a recent convert, live in a community without any Mohels, and after celebrating the birth of their first son have to fly one in to perform the ceremony. Family expectations and financial strain force James to confront his ideology, and the realities of maintaining old traditions in a modern world.
Jewish Film Institute: Tell us about the genesis of this film. What inspired you to tell this story?
Charles Wahl: The idea to make the film came from a conversation I was having with another Jewish filmmaker while waiting for a film to start. I was telling him stories about what it’s like to live in a place that has a small Jewish community, and the challenges that come with it, including trying to put together a Brit Milah. I got into stories about the religion in general that I had heard from friends and family throughout the years, and by the time the movie started he said to me “You have to make a movie about this.”
The more I thought about it the more I started to frame a story that dealt with themes and topics that I think are worth discussing. The often transactional nature of religion, and the challenges of maintaining religion and old world traditions in the modern world.
JFI: What was your biggest challenge making the film?
CW: The biggest challenge was authenticity. There are Jewish people everywhere in the world. In every community, and every family, there are different traditions and ways of doing things. I grew up in a large city with a large Jewish community and I could see growing up how different the Jewish experience could be depending on how and where you were growing up. The Mohel deals with a timeless ceremony and I wanted to make sure that the Brith Milah, and all the other aspects of the religion where done authentically. To do that Sam (the actor who plays The Mohel) and I spent time with a local Rabbi to go over everything and make sure we had a firm grip on it all. I actually phoned up the Rabbi multiple times to check in about certain details and he was a tremendous help to our whole team. I knew because of the nature of the story that it would be divisive, and since the film has been released there have been many people who have said that it feels so real and authentic, and that they could relate to the story, but I have also heard from some Jewish people in other communities that they felt it wasn’t at all what it was like where they lived. Going in I knew it was a film that would divide, but I wanted to present it as authentic to how I grew up, and to the community I lived in.
JFI: Is there an interesting story about making the film that you can share?
CW: None of the actors who appear in the film actually speak Hebrew. Although Sam knows how to read Hebrew, and do prayers, he doesn’t know how to actually speak it. For all the scenes with prayers or Hebrew conversation I had all of the dialogue recorded by Hebrew speakers and the recording sent to the actors to learn. Everyone involved was so committed that they learned it all perfectly. So much so that people on set thought they were all Hebrew speakers.
JFI: What are you working on now?
CW: I’m putting the finishing touches on a new short film titled Paper that centers around personal debt, how it’s collected, and its impact on people. I’m hoping to get it into the festival circuit soon. I am also in development on a couple of different feature films, and a limited TV series. It’s all a matter of which one ends up getting to go first!
JFI: Is there anything else that you would like the JFI audience to know?
CW: As a proud Jew this was not an easy film to make. I had conflicted feelings going into it, but all of the themes and scenarios presented in the film I think are important to look at and examine. Both of the main characters think they are doing the right thing, and I do understand both of their perspectives. It’s a true old-world, and new-world crossing of lifestyles and philosophies that unfortunately turns what should be a beautiful experience into a tragic one. Quite often because of rigidity of peoples views, this kind of thing happens a lot more often than we realize.
About the Filmmaker: Charles Wahl is a Canadian Independent Filmmaker. He wrote & directed Little Grey Bubbles, an Official Selection
at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival, Palm Springs International Short Film Festival, Aspen Shortsfest, Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, and many others. It premiered online via Short of the Week, while also being selected as a Vimeo Staff Pick. His short video project — A Short Portrait: Brent — was chosen as the closing film of the TIFF x Instagram
Shorts Festival in conjunction with the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.
In addition to making films, Charles works internationally directing commercials. Charles currently splits his time between Toronto, Ontario, and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia with his wife, two young boys, and their dog Bitey.
About JFI Online Shorts: JFI Online Shorts features one new short film each month from emerging and established filmmakers. Since 2009, JFI has showcased over 100 online shorts and garnered worldwide views over 2 million on the JFI Youtube channel. Learn more at www.jfi.org.