Many directors like to think themselves unique, but no one except Robin Saex
Garbose could utter the sentence, “My frumkeit deepened while I was directing
episodes of America’s Most Wanted.”
Garbose is in here this week to
present her latest film, The Heart That Sings, which is being shown at the 13th
Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Monday. The
festival runs through December 23.
After the Jerusalem Cinematheque
screening, the film will be shown throughout the country, including at Heichal
Shlomo in Jerusalem on December 20, at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on December 25,
27 and 28, and in Petah Tikva, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Rosh Pina, Kfar Chabad, Efrat
and Safed throughout the month of December.The Heart That Sings
unique as Garbose, an ultra-Orthodox Jew who grew up secular, had a career
directing sitcoms and America’s Most Wanted, and then opened a musical and
dramatic camp for observant girls, Kol Neshama
in Los Angeles.
of the film, an original musical about a musically gifted Holocaust survivor who
becomes the music and drama counselor at a camp for pampered city girls, is
almost entirely composed of observant actresses. Garbose has “kindly requested”
that only women and girls attend the screening, in keeping with the wishes of
the actresses who appear in the film.
While she is keenly aware of the
controversy this request has generated, she is also “over the moon” that the
cinematheque management has agreed to it. Things didn’t go as smoothly three
years ago, when her first film, A Light for Greytowers
, also a musical with
original songs and story featuring Orthodox women performers, was slated to be
shown at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival.
Garbose made the request
that it be shown to female-only audiences, and the Jerusalem Cinematheque did
not feel comfortable.
Eventually, the film was shown just across the road
at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, and then at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque for
“Alon [Garbuz, the director of the Tel Aviv
Cinematheque and a ‘long-lost cousin’ of Garbose’s husband] was very passionate.
He said, ‘I believe haredi women and girls should also be able to enjoy the
cinematheque.’” In spite of – or perhaps because of – the controversy (“You
couldn’t buy that kind of publicity,” says Garbose) – the film was warmly
“Only Hashem [God] could have choreographed a moment like
that,” says Garbose, who concedes she is not unsympathetic to the concerns of
those who worry about the implications of sex-segregated
“There needs to be dialogue about that,” she says,
stressing that she is in no way sympathetic to haredi men who have harassed and
beaten women who refused to move to the back in sex-segregated bus
But the reality remains that her actresses feel it would be
immodest to sing and dance for men, and she does not want to deny them the
chance to “sparkle.” When her films have been shown in New York, “busloads of
Satmar women have come from Williamsburgh to Borough Park to see the movies. It
was so beautiful to see.
Some of them had never seen a movie before and
they were so appreciative.”
Garbose, who is extremely funny and charming
as she discusses her career, says she sees herself as “a person who crosses
worlds. I’m comfortable with so many people, in so many places.”
those places was Brown University, where the Massachusetts-raised Garbose became
involved in theater as an undergrad. She worked there with movie director Todd
Haynes and went on to direct off-Broadway productions, including one that
starred her college friend, John F. Kennedy Jr.
“That is and was my
world,” she says. Although she was raised in a Conservative Jewish household,
religion wasn’t a central part of her life. She plunged into the highly
competitive world of sitcom directing and worked on the TV series Head of the
Class. But questions of religion and identity became important to her as started
doing research on Holocaust survivors for a screenplay she was writing, The
“It’s about a young girl, very secular, the granddaughter of a
Holocaust survivor who is dying. It’s her first time facing
She realized, as she got deeper into this screenplay, “That
everything I was looking for was in my own backyard – Judaism.”
started that journey, even taking the screenplay to a workshop at the
prestigious Sundance Institute Laboratory.
“Who knew that one day I’d be
wearing a sheitel
[wig] and dressing sniyas
[modestly]?” she says, indicating
her wig and long sleeves.
Although she put the screenplay aside for years
as she made the transition to an observant life and opened her school, she is
now planning to direct it, and Abigail Breslin, the brilliant young actress who
made such a splash in Little Miss Sunshine, has agreed to star.
Breslin is not Orthodox and the film is not a musical, it can be made as a
mainstream film for mixed audiences.
While Garbose is looking forward to
making The Spark
, she will continue her work with Kol Neshama and is planning to
hold a summer musical camp for girls in Israel.
“I feel that my work with
Kol Neshama is inherently worthwhile for women. It empowers them by giving them
a special joy,” she says. As for the screenings of her film at the cinematheque
and around Israel, she hopes “to see women with double hair-coverings sitting
next to girls in jeans.”For information about screenings of
That Sings, call (02) 583-1371.