Tribeca Film Festival 2017: A Conversation with Screenwriter and Filmmaker Rama Burshtein

Image courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival

Image courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival

By Prune Perromat

Spring in New York means Cherry Blossom, drenching rains and deep blue skies, a torrent of exciting new books, rooftop parties, unworldly sunsets, and the much-awaited return of the Tribeca Film Festival. It's a place to hear some of the world’s most talented screenwriters talk about their craft, and on Monday LSP heard Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha) in conversation with Dustin Hoffman, explaining the importance of each and every word and comma in his scripts - how essential each is to the movies he makes. On another night, Lena Dunham talked about her life as a writer, director and actress.

On Tuesday night in Chelsea, LSP’s Prune Perromat got to chat with award-winning Israeli director Rama Burshtein, after the first screening of her movie The Wedding Plan at the Tribeca Film Festival. In 2012, her debut feature Fill the Void about a religious young woman who faces the decision to marry her late sister’s husband, gained worldwide recognition and established her reputation as both a filmmaker and screenwriter.

She is a married mother of four, a proud member of the Hasidic ultra-orthodox community, and a rare and open voice in what is an intimate and secretive world. In her films, this fan of Jane Austen novels explores love, relationships and religion with nuance and a striking sense of humor. Ms. Burshtein’s last movie, The Wedding Plan (Through the Wall), is a subtle romcom about a single religious woman in her thirties, for whom one only exists through marriage. Desperate, she sets a date for her wedding without a groom, trusting God to find her a suitable fiancé before walking down the aisle.

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LSP: Rama Burshtein, you’re both a director and a screenwriter. Why is it so crucial for you to write the movies you direct?

Rama Burshtein: I wish there were people that could write it too but I'm pretty much alone there right now - in terms of being orthodox, being from inside a world, writing about it. That's what has to be done. And the writing process, I even like more than the directing process.

New York-born israeli filmmaker Rama Burshtein after the first of three screenings of "The Wedding Plan," which she wrote and directed, at the Tribeca Film Festival on Tuesday night in New York.

New York-born israeli filmmaker Rama Burshtein after the first of three screenings of "The Wedding Plan," which she wrote and directed, at the Tribeca Film Festival on Tuesday night in New York.

LSP: How so?

RB: It's me and my own studio. I like it.

LSP: Do you see yourself as a role model for other women in the orthodox community who want to see more of their culture in the mainstream media? 

RB: They don't. In the orthodox community, sometimes they say: "don't do" in terms of they wouldn't want to be outside and be discussed in public. But I don't do it for the orthodox community, I do it for the general audience. 

LSP: I have to say, this is the first time I've had such a window into the orthodox community - it's the first time I'm seeing this. How did you decide it was possible to become an orthodox filmmaker? How did it start?

RB: Before I became religious, I had already studied filmmaking and then I became religious and I kind of put it aside and I got married, four kids; went with the new role in my life and later it just came back, it just wanted to come back. I can't explain it any other way.

LSP: Can you be a screenwriter, a filmmaker and an orthodox woman? Is this compatible?

RB: I've been doing so for two films and may God give me some more! 

LSP: What are the biggest religious limitations you encounter in your role as a filmmaker?

RB: The biggest limitation for me is the mixture between men and women. And that because I'm afraid of what the men will do, because I'm afraid of myself (laughs). Because for me, I like to engage and get mixed and that's, that's complicated - I think not only for an orthodox but for all women in the world. It's complicated to work with men because it's intimate, if you're a person that is honest, it's complicated.

LSP: There was a women's march recently in Washington DC, and all over the world. There's a worldwide movement for the awakening and empowering of women, in many communities. Do you feel part of this?

RB: No. I'll tell you why. Because I think in the world what we lack is the voice of peace, we're lacking that. We have the voice of war very strongly. Everyone is fighting something. The voice of joy, the voice of peace that I will hear it's a melody. I don't hear that. All those fighting, demonstrations... I feel war, I don't feel peace. But that is very me. That's why I'm not so connected to it. 

LSP: So not so connected to the women's-

Rama Burshtein in conversation with Tribeca Film Festival moderator after Tuesday's screening of "the Wedding Plan." On a script, in a film, 'what you build is desire" she told the crowd. she is the first female orthodox jewish filmmaker targeting a mainstream audience.

Rama Burshtein in conversation with Tribeca Film Festival moderator after Tuesday's screening of "the Wedding Plan." On a script, in a film, 'what you build is desire" she told the crowd. she is the first female orthodox jewish filmmaker targeting a mainstream audience.

RB: No! I'm connected to women, forget it! But not to the sound of war. Not to the sound of, of... I'm looking for a different sound to be part of-  in terms of public, in general, in a movement. I need something else, which I don't hear yet.

LSP: You've been writing and filming a lot about marriage. Why is the theme so prevalent in your movies and will it return in your next movie?

RB: It's not about marriage. It's about love. But in my world, it comes with marriage. And I don't think there's anything else in the world besides a man and a woman in a relationship and between them. That's what I think, it's very, very personal. I don't think there's anything as strong as this so I will always talk about this because I feel this is the essence of life. That's what brings life. In my world, it would be marriage. But it's not, it's a relationship. 

LSP: And you’re covering those issues with such a sense of humor!

RB: I hope to develop it more… I like to laugh.

LSP: Do you have advice for younger screenwriters that want to become directors? How can you write best?

RB: I think when the thoughts come. To create like an artist… Sometimes you think about the Biennale (of Venice), the Cannes film festival… and that stops them, and I say work with it: you see, it's a good thing to want it, it's bad to put it aside. If I'm an artist, you don't have to think about festivals and that really turns your mind because you think about festivals all the time. So I say, go with it, think about it. Don't put it aside. And just work with it! Concentrate on what you feel. If all you think about is festivals, ...it’s with this kind of energy you have to write. Not to put it aside and say that's not strong enough. LSP

(Contributing reporter: LSP's film specialist Julie Pliouchtch )