Wendy’s Shabbat filmmaker Rachel Myers chatted with Solzy at the Movies prior the film holding its New York premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.
Thanks for joining us today. How are things treating you?
Rachel Myers: Fantastic. It’s a sunny day here in Los Angeles so never complained here.
How thrilled are you to be making the New York premiere of Wendy’s Shabbat at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival?
Rachel Myers: It took my breath away literally when Sharon—who runs the short programming—called to offer us to play at the festival. She wanted to make sure we weren’t screening anywhere else. I had a moment of pause where I thought is this the real Tribeca or is this Tribeca, Ohio? But I can’t believe of over 5,000 submissions, we were 1 of 55 to make the cut.
Given that the film has played at a number of Jewish film festivals, what has the reception been?
Rachel Myers: It’s been so unbelievably heartwarming. The audiences have loved it. At every screening, we inevitably get someone coming up and sharing an anecdote about how they recognize somebody from summer camp or went to that rabbi’s congregation. The overarching theme that we experienced particularly was screening at the Sedona Film Festival, which was not a Jewish film festival. That was the first non-Jewish film festival after the Jewish film festival experience. It was sort of a feeling of understanding between communities. I think that the theme of aging, loneliness and finding community in old age are really similar in subset of ethnic groups or different types of communities. Even though it is a Jewish story of sharing Shabbat, which is a Jewish ritual, I think the graph extends beyond.
How did you decide to tell this story as a documentary?
Rachel Myers: My grandmother, Roberta Mahler, is the protagonist of the film. Originally going into filming, I knew we would center our narrative around her. At first, I thought it would be more of an ensemble piece. I didn’t realize until our edit how strong and captivating Roberta (Nana) would be as the protagonist for the film. I think looking at the story through her lens, particularly because it was an easy access point for me both as a filmmaker and having the relationship, felt like the right perspective to look into the story and her community.
You’ve previously worked as a production designer, including the award-winning Short Term 12. When did you decide that it was time to direct a film?
Rachel Myers: I directed in college for theater but began to work professionally as a designer for film. I’ve been wanting to direct film for years but as a younger woman early in my career, I lacked the confidence to pursue it seriously. I’ve been starting to focus on directing in small steps with this film and another film that I shot this year, as well as a feature film that I’m now working on. I think I’ve been emboldened in general by how positive the shift of the tide has been recently regarding opportunities for women in film. For the majority of my early career as a production designer, I met so many young filmmakers, mostly men in their 20s, who were doing $2 million feature films. Recently, I’ve seen that change, and the opportunities have become abundant for women filmmakers and more doors are opening, which is very encouraging. I didn’t have any expectations with where this film would go.
Working in the industry since 2002, I’ve collaborated with friends, who are also female filmmakers, to shoot and edit the movie. It was a quick passion project, but I had no idea that it would take off as it has. I will say it’s definitely given me a lot more confidence in my work. You make something because you care about a story and want to share a window into the community. To have this little film be received with such open arms by so many different communities of filmmakers at festivals reminds me about why I started as a creative in this art to begin with. It’s been really amazing, encouraging and inspiring me as a filmmaker as well.
Thanks again for joining us and congrats on the film.
Rachel Myers: Awesome. Thank you very much.
Wendy’s Shabbat holds its New York premiere on April 21, 2018.