... her world to a broader audience as well as about her ongoing fascination with the relationships between men and women, love and passion.
"Fill the Void" is the first film that was written and directed by an ultra-orthodox Israeli filmmaker and gives a unique and very intimate glimpse into a closed community.
Burshtein tells the story of a young girl from an Orthodox Hassidic family who is confronted with the proposal to marry her brother in law, after her sister died giving birth to her first child. Especially her mother Rivka, played by Israeli actress Irit Sheleg, advocates for this marriage and puts her daughter into the difficult position, where she has to choose between her heart and her family duty.
The film is a personal view on the Haredim world, based on Burshteins own feelings and experiences inside the community. She deliberately avoided going into a religious-secular dialogue or making any comparison between the two worlds. For her it is important to show the complexity of the life within the community.
In the Interview with AVIVA-Berlin Rama Burshtein talked not only about the film but also about how and why she became orthodox. Furthermore, Irit Sheleg who had also become religious at some point of her life tells about how she approached the role of Rivka.
AVIVA-Berlin: Before Fill the Void, you made films strictly for Orthodox women. Now you stepped outside of the community. You said you did this film, since the ultra-orthodox community has no own voice in the cultural dialogue. What do you think are the reasons for the lack of an own cultural voice?
Rama Burshtein: I think that time is very precious in Judaism and you don┬┤t spend it on culture in terms of art and film making. They don┬┤t have so much time for that. As a culture they would say: "I┬┤m here for a reason, I have a job to do. I don┬┤t have time to spare my time." None of them would naturally go into making films and having a cultural voice. I think this is more about people like me that became religious. I became religious 20 years ago, so I know both worlds. I am jumping from worlds and it is easier for me to do this, to have that voice, because I know your language, I know cinema and I know cinema language. Even though they can really surprise me, if some of them decide to make a film, they would make a great film. But it is not natural for them. They are not so much into explaining themselves and they don┬┤t have that need of expressing themselves.
Irit Sheleg: Rama always says to me when we talk about movies: "You have to make a movie about something that interests you, something you like" And I think you made the movie because this is the world you like. You didn┬┤t just want to give a voice you also wanted to show what amazed you.
Rama Burshtein: Yes, but to wake up, and do this film now and not ten years ago or later is because I had pain.
AVIVA-Berlin: Why is there so much pain in you and where does it come from?
Rama Burshtein: It┬┤s very simple. It┬┤s a very simple pain. The way the world sees me as an ultra-orthodox person is insulting and it is so far away from the truth. I see every film that has been done about my world. . It is very important for me to know how the world sees me as a code of a community or a culture. Everything that was done about our culture was way far from the truth. This is okay to do, it┬┤s not me criticizing things. I am criticizing myself, because if there was a voice from within, then there would be a balance and you as an audience could choose which voice you like better. But if I am silenced then all you get about me is the interpretation.
AVIVA-Berlin: Do you think there are other women in your community who might want to follow your example and contribute further to the cultural voice?
Rama Burshtein: I don┬┤t know, because this is not a job for everyone. How many good filmmakers are there? And I am not talking about religious or non-religious women and men. It is a very complicated craft to make films, but I think that this film opened something inside my world. Orthodox people really follow how the world looks at this film. Everyone is really fascinated with the fact that some people, and I am going to say some, actually changed their mind about us.
AVIVA-Berlin: Fill the Void received a lot of positive attention in Israel. It won seven Ophir Awards and was chosen as the Israeli contribution for the Oscars. How were the overall reactions of the audience in Israel to the film? Were there also critical voices?
Rama Burshtein: The tension between the groups in Israel is strong, stronger then outside the country. I had no idea about how it would be accepted, even though we had a bit of a feeling, because my producer is secular. The relationship between us made this film something that has a dialogue with both sides. Also through the people on set, we already knew that a meeting of secular and religious people is possible, but we didn┬┤t really know if it is going to work in Israel. The reactions were very strong and a lot of people saw the film. It was the most shown film of that year. None of the academy members are religious and somehow that gave that film all these prices. It was a very unique and beautiful surprise. From the whole journey of making the film, and many strong things happened along this journey, this was the most exciting thing I was really tensioned about - Israel.
Irit Sheleg: It was like a big hug, really.
AVIVA- Berlin: You did intensive research before making the film, where you also talked to several women who married their late sister┬┤s husband. What fascinated you the most about this custom and what insights did you get from the conversations with the women?
Rama Burshtein: It was not only the women that got married that I was talking to, I was also talking to the mothers or the mother of the husband. It is this transition inside the family that was hard for me to understand. I was just very curious. It was hard to get to talk to the people themselves, because they were not open, they were very suspicious. I went around and around trying to understand the feeling of it and I also went to someone who is already a grandmother.
How do you make a transition? Because this is not about logic, this is not about making sense. This is about feelings and experience, there are a lot of things involved, and I was just very curious to understand them. At the end of this research everything was very natural, for me it was the most natural thing to fall in love with your late sister┬┤s husband.
AVIVA-Berlin: Irit, like Rama you too became religious later in life, how did your background help you prepare for the role of Rivka, Shiras mother?
Irit Sheleg: For me as an actress, it was not the religion that interested me, I have to understand the heart. The religion is their world and for me as an artist it is interesting. I know this world and I respect it. This world is amazing for my eyes, so is the character. That I don┬┤t live in this world doesn┬┤t mean I don┬┤t like it and that I am not connected. I have my own journey through life. So this is me. But I can still look and feel this world and its power and beauty.
AVIVA- Berlin: You also have a daughter. How do you personally feel about the costume of marring the husband of the late sister?
Irit Sheleg: I must tell you in the beginning it was hard for me to connect to this part, but Rama helped me and gave me the key to this character. I had to find something inside me, because I judged her in the beginning. I would never do this, but after I found something inside me, I had the key to the heart of Rivka and it made sense.
AVIVA-Berlin: Rama, you come from a liberal family and became orthodox at the age of 26 after you left the Sam Spiegel Film School. What made you choose this path?
Rama Burshtein: I think it is almost impossible to answer this question, because nobody can understand it. Again it has nothing to do with making sense or being logical. It is an experience, it is a feeling. It is a very strong one. It is there for a moment then it goes away, you search again and find again. Something didn┬┤t make sense in terms of men and women in the modern world, and I was truly from the modern world, being from a very liberal home, being free, beautiful and wild. When I met that Judaism, I felt like I hit jackpot, I knew this is the right way to live. Especially, when it comes to men and women because this is really all I┬┤m interested in - The secret enigma of that chemistry and genders and how that works.
AVIVA-Berlin: What is the secret of the relationship of men and women in ultra-orthodox Judaism and what fascinated you about it?
Rama Burshstein: Intimacy in Judaism is a private thing, it has a time and a place. That is one secret. The other secret is: separation between the genders in Judaism is very wise. When you meet a man in Judaism there is a lot of respect, it is about commitment, it is about marriage, it┬┤s about for better or worse. And this is from day one, and there is a lot of security and again there is a very big secret, a secret of passion. I found out I can be in love and feel passionate only towards someone that is a little bit more than me. I have to look up, if it is equal it is very comfortable, but it is not passionate. For me passion and being in love is the main thing, this is all my spiritual work, this is the connection you have with god. This is not about not being feminist, but I don┬┤t want the equality that kills passion, I would always go for the little bit more and being in love. So, Judaism for me was very good in understanding what I wanted.
AVIVA-Berlin: Rama Burshtein, Irit Sheleg, thank you very much for the Interview and your insightful answers!
Please also read the AVIVA-Berlin review on Fill the Void.
Copyright photo Rama Burshtein and Irit Sheleg: Sharon Adler