Gidi Dar’s Imprint on Israeli Cinema

Gidi Dar, director of the smash-hit Israeli film Ushpizin (The Guest). (Photo by Ted Soqui)Israeli filmmaker Gidi Dar is at the center of something unique that is taking place within the Israeli cinema. The Ultra Orthodox community has been embracing and going to see his latest film, “Ushpizin,” a smart dramedy about an Ultra Orthodox couple who face numerous challenges around the Succoth holiday. The film was shot in accordance with all Jewish laws and contains numerous Ultra Orthodox cast and crew members. Even more striking is the cross over appeal of the film with all types of audiences � secular Jews, Ultra Orthodox Jews, and non-Jews. The film has shown Israeli and international filmmakers that there is an audience for Ultra-Orthodox stories in the film marketplace.
The origins of the film are as unique as the film�s success. Gidi Dar, a secular Israeli filmmaker worked with Israeli actor Shuli Rand prior to Shuli becoming Ultra Orthodox. Even though Shuli gave up acting, he still kept in touch with Gidi. Looking to make another film, Gidi contacted Shuli and talked about various ideas including making a film where he would go into and explore Shuli�s Ultra Orthodox lifestyle. According to Gidi, he believed that Shuli had a hidden desire to go back into acting if the right project came along and he was right. Shuli told Gidi a true life story that happened to him involving a stolen succah. Gidi took that story and used it as the basis for “Ushpizin.” Originally, Gidi intended to turn the story into a short film. However, the more that Gidi worked on the story with Shuli, the more that he realized that the story was evolving into a feature length film.

Since Gidi is a secular Jew, he decided to raise a number of religious questions, ideas, and issues through the main couple�s journey in the film, but he did not provide any answers. He left many of the issues and ideas raised in the film up to the individual to interpret and answer. He also managed to expose the viewer to aspects of the Ultra Orthodox community that are not usually seen in an effort to enlighten viewers about some common elements and problems that all human beings face.

By now, Gidi Dar is used to the international acclaim and attention that he has been receiving from the success of his film. He hopes that the success from “Ushpizin” will allow him to cross over into making Hollywood films. Gidi believes that “cinema is a powerful instrument” and he would love the chance to make smart, good movies. He believes that American films have gotten more interesting in the past ten years and even points to the success of his friend�s (Anthony Bregman) film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” as an exciting direction that Amercian films are heading.

As for Israeli cinema, Gidi revealed that through the success of “Ushpizin,” a new commercial Chasidic theater will be opening up soon. He believes that other Israeli filmmakers will delve into making more Ultra Orthodox themed films because there is so much more to be said about this community. He is proud that his film has opened up a dialog between all of the communities in Israel as well as with all different types of groups outside of Israel.

Quotes used in this article come from an interview done on Friday, October 7, 2005 between Gidi Dar and Sandy Chertok.

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