'The Believer': Love from a Different Direction
Sundance winner Henry Bean explains why his film about a Jewish Nazi is really a 'love poem' to Judaism.
BY: Interview by Rebecca Phillips
Your movie comes out at a strange time in the Jewish world--when it seems Jews once again are confronting anti-Semitism on a large scale. Occurrences in the movie, such as neo-Nazis trying to destroy synagogues, have actually been happening now in Europe and elsewhere. Did you have mixed feelings about releasing the movie at this time?
In the immediate aftermath of September 11, I had a spasm of "Oh my god, I did a terrible thing." That faded. I feel that the film is not only not anti-Semitic--it's embarrassingly philo-Semitic. It's an attack on prejudice itself. Some people have asked me, 'Are you worried that some people will misuse the film?' And of course I can't be sure that they won't. There are passages in there that you could take out of context, and say, 'Here's a great argument against the Jews, and even the Jews themselves know it's true.'
No matter what you do, conceivably someone can misuse it, especially if you're dealing with something volatile. I am not without a certain queasiness and anxiety, but I'm very glad I made the film.
I'm sure you've had critics say that during this time, we should only showcase the positive aspects of Judaism. How do you respond?
I think I show a lot that is positive about Judaism. The film is made as if there were nothing for the Jew to fear. The time when we weren't allowed to say all kinds of things in public is over. We're free.
That isn't completely true, and of course events since I finished the film have made it even less true. But I think there's a benefit to acting as if it's true, to saying, you know what, I'm not embarrassed to say anything about my religion. I think that when you say to the anti-Semitic world, "Hey, I'm not ashamed," you take away a lot of the power of anti-Semitism. Jews in their reactions have been so fearful and so, in a sense, apologetic. That is part of what has led to what we call Jewish self-hatred. When I was growing up, Jews I knew were horribly embarrassed about the Jews they saw who exemplified anti-Semitic cliché.