Jan 28, 2016

Film about wayward Hasidic Jew nominated for BAFTA

January 16, 2016
Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

A dark, surreal film about a young Hasidic man who leaves his community to live in secular society has been nominated for a BAFTA in the best British short film category.

“Samuel-613,” written and directed by Billy Lumby, is an intense 15-minute long cinematic story. It was screened at film festivals in London (including the UK Jewish Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival), New York, Los Angeles, Geneva, Berlin and Mexico, and viewed close to 100,000 times on social medial platforms like YouTube.

In the film, the main character, a young Hasid named Shmilu, is at odds with his Yiddish-speaking family and leaves home angrily after an argument. After already sneaking porno magazines into his room and browsing online dating sites, he shaves his beard and cuts off his side locks before running away.

Holing himself up in a housing project apartment, Shmilu binges on alcohol, rock music, and of course, bacon. Later, a date with a young non-Jewish woman whose profile he has obsessed over online proves disastrous, setting him on a further downward spiral.

The plot ends ambiguously, which was the intent of filmmaker Lumby.

“The ending is open to viewers’ interpretations. I just want them to enjoy it and ask questions afterwards,” Lumby told The Times of Israel.

Lumby is neither Hasidic nor Jewish, but he felt drawn to the religion and culture after moving next to the Hasidic community in North London.

“Like in Brooklyn, there is a hipster community next door. Culture clash and melting pots are something I am interested in, so the idea [for the film] began there,” he explained.

Part of the production was filmed in Stamford Hill, and it took Lumby some time to gain enough trust from the locals to make the film on-site. Three members of the Hasidic community act in the movie, and Lumby developed the script in conjunction with several anonymous individuals who have either left or are living on the fringes of the community.

“Getting access was a long process of getting to know people… I even went ‘undercover’ a few times — to a synagogue and meetings… There is also a charity called Gesher EU that helps OTD leavers readjust and they were able to point me in the direction of people,” the filmmaker said, using the acronym for “Off The Derech,” or those who have left the ultra-Orthodox way of life.

The actor in the main role, Theo Barklem-Biggs, is not Jewish. It was important to Lumby to cast a professional actor who would take a method acting approach. Barklem-Biggs went to Stamford Hill, met Hasidim and learned some Yiddish — which he pulls off rather well in the film. Samuel Leibowitz, who plays his father, is from the Satmar Hasidic community and showed him the ropes.

Lumby is “excited” about the BAFTA nomination, but wanted to explore how disorienting it would be for a young Yiddish-speaking man without a good secular education who was facing an arranged marriage to enter a world of pop culture, skilled labor and dating.

Indeed, one does comes away from watching “Samuel-613” deeply disturbed and disoriented. A signal to this writer that this is a film worthy of consideration.

The 2016 BAFTAs will be awarded in London on February 14.


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