Under G-d – Sundance 2023

A still from Under G-d by Paula Eiselt, an official selection of the U.S. Shorts program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Under G-d launches at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival as one of the most important documentaries that anyone will watch this year.

This film is a very personal film. It’s a film that I’m going to be speaking about all year long. As a Jewish person in this country, it is not fun watching Christian nationalists forcing their beliefs on me. Everyone needs to watch Under G-d: activists, legislators, judges, Supreme Court Justices, Congress, the White House, etc. I don’t know who is going to acquire the film out of Sundance but they have to campaign hard.

The reversal of Roe v. Wade in last summer’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision was devastating. We all knew it was coming because of leak. But even before the official decision, Jewish women were already in activist mode. It’s ironic that all these conservatives are citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in their anti-LGBTQ bigotry because the tide has turned. This time, rabbis, Jewish organizations, and interfaith leaders are using the RFRAs as a way of fighting back against abortion bans.  How’s that for irony? Following 93Queen and Aftershock, filmmaker Paula Eiselt was on the ground running. The main focus may be on Indiana and Florida but there are so many other lawsuits that are not in the film.

In June 2022, Rabbi Barry Silver and Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor took on the Florida abortion ban. Their lawsuit states:

“this failure to maintain the separation of church and state, like so many other laws in other lands throughout history, threatens the Jewish family, and thus also threatens the Jewish people by imposing the laws of other religions upon Jews.”

In Indiana, Elly and her family follow the debate in the Indiana legislature. Elly and her husband already have one child but had to have a medically-necessary abortion during a recent pregnancy. All their hopes of having a second child depend on what happens in the state house. Their activism leads Elly to form Hoosier Jews for Choice.

Outside of the Florida and Indiana cases, Eiselt introduces audiences to attorney and professor Marci Hamilton. Hamilton is taking inspiration from Rabbi Silver and gathering interfaith leaders together to see how they can go forward. Again, it’s ironic that the RFRAs are their best weapon of defense in challenging the bans. Meanwhile, Rachel Laser is the first Jewish woman to be president of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Much like Professor Hamilton, Laser is also recruiting an interfaith coalition to challenge the laws. Jews are not in this fight alone as Jewish leaders recruit other minorities, including Muslims, to join their coalition in taking on Christian nationalists. Laser delivers the money quote in the documentary:

“The lawsuits that we are bringing are under state establishment clauses that say that the state cannot codify one religious viewpoint into the law. If we win under a state establishment clause claim, the case can’t be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. It stops in the state courts and that’s important right now because we’ve seen that we have a court that is aligning with religious extremists…but we have to remember the reason that we’re seeing such a backlash in this country is because we’re on the winning side of history. Just look at what the next generation of America looks like.”

Over a month before the Sundance short film announcement, a trio of Jewish women in Kentucky sued Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Jefferson County Commonwealth Attorney Thomas Wine. While their case is too late for inclusion in the 22-minute documentary, all of the cases are just as important.

Eiselt is no stranger to the U.S. maternal healthcare crisis. Forced pregnancies will only lead to increased maternal mortality rates. While Christian nationalists are forcing their beliefs on others, it means millions will not have access to the healthcare they need. The maternal mortality right is going to increase and it will especially hurt Black women the most. As Americans we cannot allow this to happen. Jews have always been taught that saving the mother’s life is important. Christian nationalists see things differently.

Under G-d is a film that needs to be seen by everyone but especially the Christian legislators and justices who are forcing their religious beliefs on others regardless of another person’s religious beliefs. To say that it is one of the most important and powerful films that anyone will watch this year is not an understatement. A person’s medical decision should be between their family, doctor, and advice from religious clergy, not a Christian legislator who is wrongfully denying them the right to practice their religion.

Under G-d is an important reminder about the American separation of religion and state and must be seen by everyone.

DIRECTOR: Paula Eiselt
SCREENWRITERS: Paula Eiselt and Sunita Prasad
FEATURING: Elly and family, Rabbi Barry Silver, Michal Raucher, Rabbi Jeremy Wieder, Marci Hamilton, Rachel Laser, Wajahat Ali

Under G-d holds its world premiere during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in the Documentary Shorts Program. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.