By COLlive reporter
Participants at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah got to watch a full length new movie that boasted a single language – Yiddish.
The movie “Menashe” is described as the first movie produced in Yiddish since World War II. It was screened Monday at the annual festival with English subtitles.
Hollywood director Chris Columbus, of “Home Alone” and “Harry Potter” acclaim, recently signed on as a post-facto executive producer, joining producers Daniel Finkelman, Alex Lipschultz and Tracy Carlson.
The film, directed by Joshua Z. Weinstein, was shot in the Chassidic neighborhoods of Crown Heights and Borough Park in Brooklyn. It is the story of an Orthodox Jewish man, portrayed by Chassidic actor Menashe Lustig, who loses custody of his young son following the death of his wife.
He is ordered by the Beis Din to send his son to live with his brother until he remarries and builds a stable home.
Providing inside access to the Chassidic community was the film’s producer Daniel Finkelman, a Lubavitch filmmaker from Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn whose office is located in Crown Heights.
Finkelman introduced Weinstein to Menashe Lustig, the actor who plays the main character, after the director spotted him at one of Finkelman’s music video shoots.
Finkelman also introduced producers to the different locations where the film was shot in the heart of the Chabad community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and in local stores such as Empire Kosher Supermarket, Raskin’s Fish Store and other locations.
“We chose Crown Heights because it is a true Chassidic neighborhood, and provided an authentic setting for the story. Although the story takes place in Borough Park, we chose Crown Heights for filming since Chabad embraces technology, and the residents are my good friends. They welcomed us with open arms,” he said.
The movie received glowing reviews as emotional and poignant, providing a glimpse into the Orthodox Jewish community and the Chassidic Jewish lifestyle.
Times of Israel called it “A tremendous blend of drama, but also finely observed moments in a usually closed-off society. From the wood-paneled basements packed with davening men to the vans loaded with cardboard boxes of gefilte fish, there is a tactile nature to ‘Menashe’ that only comes from steeping oneself in the community.”
At Sundance, Finkelman, Lustig and the film crew were welcomed by the Chabad Shliach Rabbi Yudi Steiger, who lives in Park City and provides Jewish services and programming for residents and visitors year round.
During the film festival, Rabbi Steiger runs Minyanim and provides Kosher food for individuals as well as catering for parties that require Kosher food.
Finkelman is proud to have been part of this groundbreaking film, which showcases the positive elements of the Chassidic Jewish culture.
“Most films set in the Chassidic community display the characters in a very negative light,” Finkelman said. “In ‘Menashe’, however, critics say the film provides the first real peek into the Chassidic lifestyle, since director Joshua Z. Weinstein made sure to capture the true essence and beauty by focusing on the community’s positive traits through this story which has universal appeal.”