Kresge Auditorium trembles before Dubowski
Sandi DuBowski is milking his film for all its worth. After spending five years negotiating interviews, traveling the globe in search of sources, and crafting hundreds of hours of footage into a cohesive 80-minute documentary, DuBowski is not content to simply sit back and watch as the awards pile up (The Teddy Award for Best Documentary at the Berlin Film Festival, The Mayor's Prize for the Jewish Experience at the Jerusalem Film Festival, The Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at OUTFEST Los Angeles) pile up. No, DuBowski is now launching a national education program based on the film, as well as the fall tour that brought him, and his film, to Bowdoin's Kresge auditorium Tuesday before fall break.
The film's achievements, and DuBowski's growing plans for it, are even more impressive when the subject matter is considered. The film is called Trembling Before G-d, and it seeks to tell the stories of gay and lesbian Orthodox and Hasidic Jews. A film dealing with such a closeted minority of what is already an often overlooked subset of the population could have easily never found its audience and gone completely unnoticed.
However, as Bowdoin's Professor Aviva Briefel commented when she introduced DuBowski on Tuesday night, he was "turning the unspeakable into words, and the invisible into images." The profound difficulty of what DuBowski has sought to create, coupled with the film community's cries of his success, has resulted in a word of mouth wildfire.
The film, brought to Bowdoin as the commencement lecture on the twenty-fifth anniversary Harry Spindel Memorial Lectureship, introduces us to several Orthodox and Hasidic Jews in Israel and the United States who are struggling with the relationship between their sexuality and their religion.
Devorah, a married Israeli woman with children and grandchildren who told her story under the anonymity of silhouette, realized she was a lesbian only after marriage. David, an Orthodox gay man living in Los Angeles, spent a decade trying to follow the advice of his rabbis and pursuing therapies that would help him change his homosexuality.
Malka and Leah met in their Orthodox high school and now share a home together, even if it has meant alienating parts of their family and their community. Mark, born in London and sent to Israel by his father after learning of his homosexuality, abandoned his Orthodoxy for many years; however during the period that the film was made, attempted to reinvest himself in this community, despite his homosexuality and HIV-positive status.
These people, and the other individuals who were willing to tell their story under varying levels of anonymity, share a common burden. Jewish law (or rabbinic law for those engaging in lesbian relationships) forbids them to act upon their homosexuality. It seems that either they must abandon their faith, and often their family and community as a result, or they must live a lie or constantly struggle to change. The problems branch out from here. Devorah describes her greatest regret being the pain she has caused her husband, who can never truly understand her coldness towards him. Malka and Leah worry that, despite devoting their lives to doing good works, they will be denied "a place in the next world with each other."
In the question and answer segment after the film, DuBowski explained that they tried to stay away from the approach of creating a "video debate"-instead of simply pitting one rabbi's argument against another regarding this issue, they chose to develop an understanding of these peoples' lives.
The rabbis, both ultra Orthodox and more progressive, seem to agree that that there is almost no way to reconcile homosexuality with Jewish law. This is not nearly as hopeless as it sounds. The reception in the Jewish community has proven that putting a face to this issue, and deftly drawing out the implications for the entire community, will instigate a dialogue.
DuBowski described just how far reaching this dialogue has become, explaining that, besides screenings across the globe, he has also shown Trembling Before G-d in Mormon communities in Utah, as well as to Orthodox and Hasidic youth who have never seen another film before. Even the Bowdoin audience consisted mostly of community members, many of whom had no direct ties to either the Orthodox or gay community. "I don't know why I decided to come tonight" said one Brunswick local, "I was just a little curious but now I think everyone should see that movie."