Monday, May 14, 2012

Jewish film festival rejects documentary on sexual abuse Baltimore's Orthodox Jewish community

As reported by Ynet News, April 9, 2012:

Producer Scott Rosenfelt is threatening to take legal action against the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival after its director, Hilary Helstein, called his film a "witch hunt," JTA reported.

Rosenfelt, whose credits include blockbusters such as "Home Alone" and "Mystic Pizza," submitted "Standing Silent" – a film about sexual abuse in Baltimore's Orthodox community – to the festival, and was rejected.

The film is slated to be screened at several Jewish film festivals across the United States.

According to the report, after viewing the film, Helstein sent an email to other Jewish film festival directors in which she said that while the film was well made, her festival's team chose to reject it over its subject matter.

"Our committee felt… the film was a 'witch hunt.' We all show different things and each community has a different level of tolerance,” she wrote.

"Our committee felt that a community that reveres its rabbis, this was not something they wanted to show. I just wanted to put a warning sticker on this one so that you are aware."

Tainted considerations?

Rosenfelt slammed the correspondence as "the most unprofessional act" he has seen in his career.

"The idea that a festival director would go behind the back of a filmmaker and do this gives me great pause to ever recommend your festival to anyone," the JTA quoted Rosenfelt's email to Helstein.

"As you know, I've produced films… so I know a couple of people in the business. I plan on letting EVERYONE I know to stay away from you and your festival, because you are clearly not someone who supports filmmakers."

He further called her "a disgrace to Judaism, and not only that, a disgrace to all humanity."

Rosenfelt further told the JTA that Helstein "was complicit in the kind of silence surrounding sexual abuse that his film aims to combat."

The report said Helstein refused to comment, but quoted John Fishel, the festival's chairman, as saying that the decision not to screen "Standing Silent" was made by a small group of volunteers on the selection committee, who "did not feel the film was appropriate to screen and worried that it would provoke controversy that would overshadow the film itself."

Fishel further denied that Helstein was overly-influenced by the festival's small and conservative donor base.

"I would reject that as an unfair characterization of both Hilary and the festival," he said. "I think that they do a great job. I think that it’s getting better and better every year."

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