Orthodox Hollywood director, Robin Garbose, will be speaking this evening at the second screening of her most recent film, “The Heart that Sings,” for female audiences.
The movie musical is about a young holocaust survivor named Miriam, who lives in New York in the 1950s and spends a summer at a girls camp in the Catskills as drama director. At first the campers take advantage of her quiet, broken spirit but in the end they transform each other in a magnificent way.
Garbose’s first film, “A Light for Greytowers,” which screened at the festival three years ago proved to be a hit, especially among Orthodox teenage girls. Set at a Victorian orphanage in England, a young girl, Miriam, is separated from her parents after escaping Czarist Russia. She must fight to keep Judaism in the orphanage under the rule of a cruel matron.
Amidst much controversy over whether the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival would screen the film for only women, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival dared to segregate a screening of “Greytowers” for women during its festival in January 2009.
“We see it as an amazing opportunity for women and girls, not just Orthodox,” said Judy Marx, then Executive Director of the Atlanta Chapter of American Jewish Committee, which produces the festival. “We build bridges among different national groups, including beyond our own comfort zone.”
Although they will be marketing the film for women-only, Marx stressed they “won’t have a bouncer at the door.” They’re counting on the film attracting women’s groups and also families with children.
“The number one request is for fun family movies, but there are very few Jewish films appreciated by children,” Marx says.
Many attended the film then, including mother-daughter pairs and other women who found strength in bonding with each other through art. This year, the upcoming screening of “The Heart that Sings,” is was sold out and the festival planned the Feb. 27 additional screening based on popular demand.
Dassie New, director of Chaya Mushka Children’s House in Atlanta said, “I wanted to support Robin Garbose for her trailblazing effort in providing observant woman and girls an outlet for expression in the arts in a completely wholesome way. I thought the AJFF had a lot of courage to bring this film to the festival even though it was intended for “woman only.”
“They created an opportunity together with Robin for a certain sect of theJewish community to participate in the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and I wanted to support their efforts. Having woman from across the community coming together to find out a little more about their Jewish heritage was unifying and inspirational.”
Armed with now two films, Garbose is creating a new genre in the world of women’s entertainment. Both are movie musicals featuring Orthodox actresses, singers and dancers trained at Kol Neshama, a performing arts conservatory in Los Angeles, CA headed by Garbose.
Garbose says “we broke the ice with Greytowers” by ensuring the film screen to female-only audiences based on Jewish laws of modesty that allow women to sing and dance only for women. She is paving the way for young talented women to perform professionally in a modest way acceptable to Jewish tradition.
Even more, Garbose is bringing to the world films that employ messages of faith, hope and survival featuring strong voices of beautiful religious female characters who have previously never appeared on the big screen.
Two summers ago, girls from all over the United States who attended the program rehearsed for four weeks and then shot the movie under Garbose’s direction in only eighteen days. Considered extremely short shooting time for a feature length film, the new actresses were required to awake for five am calls.
Fourteen-year-old Malka Kugel, who lives in Brooklyn, NY and plays one of the mean girls in “The Heart that Sings,” was never trained before attending Kol Neshama last summer. Kugel says she felt “like a professional actress” after merely seven weeks in the program.
“When we were filming it was magical,” Kugel says. “Everything we were taught came together.”
Garbose hired a professional Hollywood crew to shoot at several locations in LA: a beautiful shooting ranch on a far-out valley for exterior shots, an RV park for interiors and downtown LA for some New York-style architecture.
Made on a budget by Hollywood standards – the film cost $350,000 to produce – Garbose attained completion funds through a clever online fundraising campaign on Kickstarter.com. Using the number eighteen – the numerical value for “Chai” or “life”- Garbose reached her goal of raising $18,000 on Kickstarter through incentive awards for backers who pledged money in increments of eighteen.
The film’s score was composed by Levi Yitzhaq Garbose, who co-produced both films with his wife, Robin. The plot is based on the short story “Miriam’s Lullaby” by Gershon Kranzler. Kol Neshama staged the story as a play twice before Garbose turned it into a screenplay for a movie.
The film features fresh, diverse characters such as the comical Shterna Sara, played by Judy Winegard, who is supposed to fix whatever breaks at camp but ends up breaking more than fixing – in the physical world at least.
“Greytowers” and “The Heart that Sings” screened to thousands of women in cities across the United States, Canada and Israel, including at major venues such as the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, the Jewish Eye World Festival in Ashkelon, and the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv Cinematiques.
“There’s something so compelling about the character of Miriam,” Garbose said.
“We’re not used to seeing a beautiful young woman with a number on her arm,” Garbose continued. “It makes you experience the holocaust in a new and emotional way.”
Before becoming Orthodox twenty-one years ago, Garbose began her career in theater, teaching at Juilliard and NYU, and directing 35 plays in LA and New York. She then dabbled in television, directing Head of the Class and then—as a Sabbath observant director—America’s Most Wanted.
A director for 27 years, Garbose says, “It’s time for authentic Jewish content to emerge in the world of film.”
The movie screens at 5:15 p.m. today 2/27 at UA Tara.
<h3>By Sarah Trappler Spielman</h3>