What happens when the community you’re filming doesn’t want you there? What if the community members have a religious taboo against being shown on camera? Taking it even further, what if revealing your subject’s face might put them at risk? And what if, even after considering these things, you still decided your story must be told?
That is exactly the dilemma that faced celebrated documentarians, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, when they embarked on their latest project, the Netflix Original film One of Us. In One of Us, the directing duo returns to the territory that garnered them an Oscar nomination in 2007 for Jesus Camp: extreme religious sects in America. In the new film, we travel far from the rural Evangelical Christian summer camps of Jesus Camp to a very different world: the Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York.
The doc focuses on three young people attempting to leave the community despite threats of retaliation. They are at different stages of separation but each is struggling to join mainstream America after having been raised strictly following daily religious mandates, speaking Yiddish, and with virtually no secular education. Luzer, who has been on his own for the longest, is trying to make a new life in Los Angeles; Teenaged Ari is battling trauma-based drug addiction with one foot still in the community and the other foot out; and thirty-year-old Etty is forced to make a Sophie’s Choice: to get away from her abusive husband through an arranged marriage, must she leave her seven children behind?
The film is beautifully shot, with many frames composed in such a way that you feel the characters’ isolation from both the secular and religious worlds around them. Because of sensitivities around their subjects and the community at large, Ewing, Grady and their cinematographers Jenni Morello and Alex Takats had to to develop all kinds of tactics and strategies for shooting very inconspicuously. In this episode, I spoke with both the directors and DPs on the day of the film’s New York premiere about how they managed to film and craft such a sympathetic tale from within a notoriously closed community.
Listen to the episode by streaming or downloading from the embedded player above, or find it oniTunes here.
This episode was edited by Jon Fusco.