At a December 29th screening, the co-writer and co-producer of the film being shown on the Paramount Studios lot – the 19th century Jewish tale The Light of Greytowers – welcomed visitors at a table in front of the Sherry Lansing Theater, but he himself was unable to join the 280 or so in attendance. Why? Because the person in question – Levi Yitzhaq Garbose – is a man, and in observance of a provision in Torah based Orthodox law that forbids Jewish women from singing in front of Jewish men (which they do in the movie), only women are being allowed to watch the film.
That’s half the potential commercial audience, down the drain. Certainly not a practice that Hollywood would embrace but par for the course for Garbose and his wife Robin, who co-produced and directed the film. According to Chabad.org, most of the female cast members are graduates of the Kol Neshama Performing Arts Conservatory, a Los Angeles school founded by Robin in 1999 that trains actors and singers within the boundaries of the Torah.
The Garbose’s film, based on a 1992 novel that was in turn adapted from the play A Guiding Light, takes place in England. But the 19th century tale of a Russian immigrant daughter trying to keep her Jewish traditions alive in the face of a cruel Victorian orphanage headmistress was actually shot in 2003 at a Chabad House on the campus of the University of Southern California.
Meanwhile, though the film’s choreographer Bracha Leeds tells the website she plans to bring the film to her Alma Mater, the University of California at Berkeley, it’s unclear what kind of distribution campaign such a film could have. Certainly, women tend to sometimes stay away en masse from violent action fare, but it would seem impossible to take A Light for Greytowers beyond the academic and religious circuits without engendering some sort of first amendment lawsuit from a male yokel.