The distinction between a secular Jew and an Ultra-Orthodox Jew is significant and it also affects the State of Israel's character and the spotlight it receives across the world. Both the Israeli and global cinema provide their weight to this distinction and the representation of the Ultra-Orthodox in the cinema has been gaining momentum over the last two decades of the 21st century. Movies and TV shows that are involved with the Haredi Cinema are gaining popularity as they expose the man behind the traditional clothes while presenting universal conflicts that anyone could identify with.
In a unique research that was conducted by the Ultra-Orthodox film critic Marlyn Vinig, the Haredi Cinema industry which operates in parallel with the Israeli cinema for more than two decades was exposed. This industry is operating despite the fact that rabbis and conservative groups object and are against it.
Vinig who has been following the development of the Haredi Cinema since its early days and up to now, as well as the trends that have been taking place in the representation of the Ultra-Orthodox in both the Israeli and global cinema, which she documented in two popular reference books in Israel "The Haredi Cinema" 2011 and "A Cinema of Their Own- the New Female Wave of Haredi Cinema", 2020 (Risling, Tel Aviv).
Vinig exposes the unique characteristics of the independent in its essence Haredi Cinema, and points to the fact that at its core there are Ultra-Orthodox women who started to make films that are being screened for Ultra-Orthodox women and Ultra-Orthodox communities across the world.
The Jewish Festival in Berlin will hold a tribute to the female Haredi Cinema, as part of which it will screen the full feature film of the Ultra-Orthodox woman filmmaker Dina Perlstein.
Along with exposing the Haredi Cinema uniqueness, Vinig points to differences and trends that have begun in the Israeli cinema as filmmakers who became religious and filmmakers who became secular began to become involved with the Ultra-Orthodox world in a manner in which both the Ultra-Orthodox as well as seculars found interest in their films.
With the films that are directed toward different audiences an Israeli discourse on the representation of the Ultra-Orthodox in the cinema begins. The films change the cinematic dichotomy that existed before, thus the Ultra-Orthodox audience and the secular- reflecting the Israeli society diversity- who are watching these same films separately, in fact make the Israelis secular films that are involved with the Ultra-Orthodox world become multi-sectoral while raising sympathy among the two circles of society (the ultra-Orthodox and secular). A creator that stands out in this field is Yehonatan Indursky (Ponevezh Time, Driver, Shtisel, who is a guest of the Jewish Festival in Berlin as well, with episodes from the TV series Autonomies, a dystopian drama that deals with the polarization between seculars and Ultra-Orthodox and presents an alternative reality in which there is an inner-Israeli war between the seculars and the Ultra-Orthodox.
The Ultra-Orthodox- an Agent of Change or an Agent of Preservation/ Marlyn Vinig
Few of the Ultra-Orthodox Cinema films were categorized or saved if any. In addition to a lack of a preservative culture, the ability to follow after the development of the cinema's viewing habits within the Ultra-Orthodox public is nearly impossible since it is a sepeprate cinematic culture in its development stages, thus releasing from the chains of the religious conservatism is difficult, which at times contradicts what is being offered by technology and innovation. This culture was created to create separateness from the Israeli culture in the first place, thus it is being consistently cautious from exposure and keeps a distance from provocations, while addressing any perspective that isn't an Ultra-Orthodox one with in both suspicion and rejection. The Ultra-Orthodox sector in Israel is a sector that is difficult to get into, more so when we are dealing with the world of the Ultra-Orthodox women.
I was able to follow the Haredi cinema because of my life circumstances; I became religious two decades ago in parallel with the breakthrough of the Haredi Cinema, my journey which began as a personal one turned into a public journey and created a place of a calling for me with the documentation of the female Haredi Cinema. The documentation constitutes as a window to the world of the Ultra-Orthodox filmmakers. Being the wife of a Yeshiva student whose sons and daughters study in religious institutions, and at the same time a cinema researcher allowed me to have both an inner and out preservative that was based on the rare filmmakers' trust to open their doors, and talk to me openly, providing me with both an intimate and exclusive access to their films. I must note that being dressed in the traditional Ultra-Orthodox clothing helped me assimilate into the Ultra-Orthodox film views and my daughter's friends, a student in a prestigious Chasidic seminar, helped me distribute questionaries in Ultra-orthodox movie theatre halls without raising suspicion.
The discovery process became ongoing and not a chronological one, and certain discoveries were revealed at times in a delay and disrupted the structured process of the documentation's known perception. The Haredi Cinema which began to base itself both gradually and cautiously that was characterized during a prolonged intermediate period in reserved immobility and didn't present any dynamic trends of change. This period of stability made me venture outside and examine what is happening in the global Ultra-Orthodox discourse. It was a time in which the Israeli cinema also began to express the Ultra-Orthodox world via the representation of Ultra-Orthodox women. These elements also contributed to the understanding of the investigated movement of the new female wave of the Haredi Cinema, which eventually following an extended period of longing, expressed trends of change.
The central question that guided me was whether the female Haredi Cinema constitutes as an agent of change in the Haredi Cinema? The answers were found in the movement of change that took place between the films of the first decade of the Haredi Cinema, and the films of the second decade- two period that the distinction between them is based on changing cinematic expressions- from obvious educational messages to hidden social messages, from passive feminism to an active one and more. The new female wave of Haredi Cinema undermined the classic- conservative Haredi Cinema which some of the Ultra-Orthodox women filmmakers continue to preserve, and since it is found to be a legitimate one, turns out to be vital to the process that is based on the trends of change. Both the old and the new were competing in the same field for the Ultra-Orthodox women viewers' hearts, who didn't always distinguish between them and at times were naively or curiously exposed to subversive message. The new wave film presented criticism, erotic perspectives and the strive for gender equality. The findings that I presented in my books show that there is a direct link between the changes that are taking place in the Ultra-Orthodox society and how women are presented on the Ultra-Orthodox screen.
The second part of the research I conducted focused on the new female wave of Haredi Cinema via the distribution to categories, including a reference to the changing feminine image of the Ultra-Orthodox women (as a woman with a difficulty or authority, as a wife, a mother and as the perspective object), along with the new voices of the filmmakers that are not afraid to call for a change an rebel against the conventions while expanding the boundaries of the Ultra-Orthodox perspective and empowering it through both metaphorical and ascetics means. The research population and the places I reached to hold observations helped me understand the movement between tradition and change and analyze the trends and processes that are taking place in this unique field of cinema.
The assumption was that every culture has a past, an element to build from, it appears that no art can be created from a void. Yet the Haredi Cinema is a difficult research object with its lack of popular culture and film viewing tradition, and with a lack of preservation and artistic awareness. This was the first reason for the division between the old and the new- despite the fact that some films might provide an exception to this rule, the distribution was required to create a clear periodical dichotomy. Furthermore, this division emphasized the Haredi Cinema tradition that was created with a fervent religious holding, enabling to identify and point the trends of change. The decades separation was also significant for recognizing the changes that began in the Israeli cinema and affected the Haredi Cinema, since Israeli films with an Ultra-orthodox representation generated a new critical perspective and a renewed thinking of the characteristics and separateness of the Haredi Cinema. Being a movie critic also helped me to recognize these films as bringers of changes with both a direct and indirect effect on new female wave of Haredi Cinema films
The conclusions of the findings from my books point to the non-institutional means of marketing, distribution and viewing that remained in the same format throughout the two decades. The filmmakers are not only the directors of their own films, but they also the ones who market and distributes them. The filmmakers published in the Ultra-Orthodox newspapers, they publish ads with views or objects but with no models or faces. The actress names don't appear in the ads as well as all the others who are involved in the making of the films aside from the producers who are also the directors, and despite the fact that the films could have boast with the participation of actress of the Israeli cinema first rank.
The movie tickets were and remain to be a photographed square on a xeroxed black and white paper that is being duplicated and cut. The viewing in the halls is made possible via a laptop, a projector and a screen. The viewers are of a variety of ages and they sit tightly together on plastic chairs. There are no ushers and women are also sitting in the narrow aisles, blocking the exists. Anyone who enters late needs to remain standing, and among the viewers one can find teenagers and women, some of them are in their advanced pregnancy some of them are with strollers, some are disabled and some are old yet they continue to watch with dedication, insisting to maintain their rights to view these film The haredi Cinema has no teasers, nor trailers or synopsis, there are no movie critics or an institutionalized discourse, and the nature of a Haredi film is only being transferred word of mouth.
As part of the trends of change my research points to the male-Haredi cinema transformation from the home computer to the public women's cinema by using pseudonyms of women. Men strive to a female identity is interesting, and this inner-gender brings up question and erotic elements for the first time. The conclusion of the findings points to significant trends of change in the attitude toward Haredi Cinema's role: It leaves the boundaries of the didactic message and tries to provide a more inclusive perspective to the one who is "different" with the appearance of more complex women in the films. The cinema becomes a means of criticism with films that present criticism on giving birth and motherhood, marriage life and the roles that are being defined for women.
The genres mixture in Haredi films (realism and horror, tragedy and comedy and the usage of a musical explanatory clip) is no longer used as a technique to gain popularity among the target audience in an attempt to please everyone, and becomes a bold act designated to empower women's character: postpartum depression mental issues and madness are being discussed along with addressing the "other", the secular woman or the divorced woman.
The "others" no longer requires an addressment or a hostile adaptive agenda, but they are being perceived as a coherent part of the characters' menus. The filmmakers and the audience are no longer depended upon permission, not the ones that are provided by rabbis or education women, the film no longer hides behind a disguise of an "audio-voice presentation" or an "educational slideshow". This is how the presentation is also affected from the spirit of the time- the characters are dressed in fashionable modern dressing, and the landscapes turns the Ultra-Orthodox perspective into a universal one. The architecture presents luxurious life as an acceptable lifestyle. Is the haredi cinema being used for women as a reality shaping tool? According to the research's findings the answer appears to be yes, and that the Haredi Cinema provides a wide glimpse to the vibrant materialistic world outside.
The audience itself also has an opinion: Ultra-Orthodox women pay a full price for an independent Haredi film and they require a full return for their money when it comes to content and ascetics, which explains the demanded for a longer feature film with inspiring landscape and professional acting of course. When the audience is disappointed and since there are no inspection mechanism for selling the tickets, the viewers demand to receive back their money. This requires the filmmakers to invest in the technical specifications just as much as they would invest in the plot's values. At the same time the filmmakers are quired to present originality; films that present a repeated idea that was already presented don't receive popularity. The filmmakers' names become a brand when their originality is proven in their films.
The height of innovation comes from a great number of the classic Haredi films in 2019- the Ultra-Orthodox women filmmakers gradually begin to implement the options that the viewing habits provides as well, in addition to expanding the new wave's boundaries. They use more and more professionals from the Israeli film industry, while trying to present new statements via the fixed and preservative framework. In the film Entangled (2019), which is screen in the Jewish festival in Berlin Dina Perlstein, the most popular filmmaker in the Haredi Cinema, the heroine is an academic, a woman working in high-tech who develops a rare software that uses artificial intelligence. The use of computers throughout the movie can be perceived as a challenge to the probation to use the internet, especially since the heroine is a young, single, beautiful career woman who can be seen as an inspiring model for Ultra-Orthodox teenage girls. This kind of movie couldn't have been released and accepted a decade ago, yet now with its release it is being accepted according to Perlstein with great sympathy and with great demand. This is but one example to the gradual changes that generates a movement from tradition to change in which it is not only the Haredi cinema that is changing but the women's viewing audience as well.
The documentation of the female Haredi Cinema as part of these processes and their effect on the Ultra-Orthodox culture while examining the reciprocal relations with the Ultra-Orthodox representation in the Israeli cinema and across the world, are important and valuable, and it is only via a retrospective view that it is possible to evaluate the depth of their effect and their historic significance.