by Rebecca Honig Friedman
Orthodox filmmaker Robin Garbose is one happy camper right now. She has secured distribution for her first feature film in two mainstream movie theaters in Israel. But while any independent filmmaker would be happy to have her work released in theaters, the victory is especially sweet for Garbose, whose film, “A Light for Greytowers,” is intended for an audience of women only.
The Israeli theaters, the Cinematheques in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, have agreed to target the screenings of the film to a female-only audience, which Haaretz notes is “the first time these venues — considered strongholds of secularism — have made such a concession.”
“A Light for Greytowers,” a movie musical, was produced with a cast of mostly Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox Jewish females, many of whom were students at the L.A.-based Kol Neshama Performing Arts Conservatory, which Garbose founded (the program’s tagline is “Transforming Hollywood into Holywood…” — cute). Garbose is devoted to providing performance training and opportunities for women who, due to their adherence to Jewish laws of modesty, will not perform in front of men, and cast members participated with the stipulation that the film would be for women-only audiences.
Accordingly, after a women-only red-carpet opening in L.A., the movie has been shown mostly in private screenings at Jewish institutions in America (it did premiere in Israel at a film festival in Ashkelon). In fact, the film stirred some controversy last year when the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival rejected it because of the women-only audience stipulation. So getting the Jerusalem Cinematheque, which sponsored the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival, to show the film is a victory indeed.
There is one catch, however. While, as Haaretz reports, the Jerusalem theater’s ads for the film “include a disclaimer explaining that the Haredi actresses don’t want men to see them singing or dancing for reasons of modesty and ‘kindly request that only women and girls attend,’” the theater’s owner, Ilan de Vries, is adamant that he will not turn men or boys away. Which means there is a chance that a male could see the film.
But Garbose is not concerned: “Our obligation is to market the film for women only,” she told The Sisterhood via an email message. “If a man insists on seeing it, we cannot throw him out. Halacha places the onus on the man with Kol Isha — the religious prohibition against hearing women sing. However, it is my hope that men will respect that the film is for women and girls only.”
So Israeli males are on the honor system here. How honorable will they be?
On the one hand, I know if I were told I couldn’t see a movie because I am a woman I would probably be more likely to try and see it on principle. On the other hand, something tells me “honor” might not be the reason men and boys stay away from a Victorian-era movie musical about a Russian-Jewish orphan starring a bunch of modestly dressed females.
On a different note, the owner of the Cinemateque in the more secular city of Tel Aviv, Alon Garbuz, is eager for the chance to woo an ultra-Orthodox audience, telling Haaretz “that he indeed hopes that Haredim would enjoy the movie and consider to return to the Cinematheque for other screenings as well.”
For Garbose’s sake, I hope that Haredi rabbis don’t get wind of his intentions…