Spiritual Sundance

At the film festival, a documentary about Hasidic homosexuals is just one entry.

The Sundance Film Festival was like any other this year. A stroll down the icy streets of Park City, Utah, meant sighting Mick Jagger, Drew Barrymore, Sissy Spacek, Courtney Love, or Samuel L. Jackson. By now it's old news that Robert Redford's midwinter showcase for independent films has turned into a sprawling media frenzy, America's Cannes. Yet the winner of the Grand Jury Prize, "The Believer," about a Jewish neo-Nazi, had no star power, and the big news event during the festival was a Havdalah service held the festival's first weekend, marking the end of the Sabbath for Jews and presided over by a rabbi in honor of another Jewish film that is generating attention and controversy.

"The Believer," directed by Henry Bean, is based on the true story of a young Jew with such strong hatred for his religion and identity that he joins a group of neo-Nazi skinheads, and begins committing hate crimes. Played brilliantly by Ryan Gosling, the movie's Danny Balint starts to feel nostalgia for Judaism while brutally desecrating a synagogue. Eventually, his true identity as a Jew is revealed, and he goes through a chaotic process of redemption.

"Trembling Before G-d" (Orthodox Jews consider the Hebrew word for "God" to be too sacred to spell out completely),

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is a jarring documentary by 30-year-old first-time director Sandi Simcha DuBowski (pictured left) about Orthodox Jews who "come out" as gay and lesbians, as well as those still living in fear and secrecy. "Trembling" was shot over a period of five years in New York, Los Angeles, London, Miami, San Francisco, and Jerusalem.

The film shows the life of openly gay Orthodox Jews, a seeming contradiction, given the strong wording of

halakah

(Jewish law), which calls for stern punishment, including death, for homosexual behavior. It features interviews with several Orthodox rabbis, most of whom, though sympathetic to the condition and reality of homosexuality, continue to condemn it and recommend counseling or celibacy for gays.

Headed for broadcast distribution, not theatrical release, "Trembling" is already scheduled to be broadcast on Keshet, the most popular television network in Israel. He has also vowed to shlep his film around to ultra-Orthodox Hasidic neighborhoods, which often forbid television or moviegoing, and show it in private households or directly on the street using a small television, intervening in situations where parents have shunned their gay children.

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