A SHORT FILM
A seemingly pious Hasidic man living a secret double life misplaces his black hat one night which will cause his two separate lives to collide in a way he never imagined.
At first blush, Shmuel is a pious Hasidic man leading a fairly simple life. By day he dutifully prays at the local synagogue and manages a busy dry cleaner. But when his wife and daughters leave town for a few days, Shmuel will step out of his simple daily life and into a more complex world lit by the night. When he misplaces his black hat along the way, Shmuel’s two lives will interconnect in a way he never expected.
adjective: Hasidic; adjective: Hassidic; adjective: Chasidic;
relating to or denoting Hasidism, a mystical Jewish movement founded in Poland in the 18th century in reaction to the rigid academicism of rabbinical judaism.
noun: Haredi; plural noun: Haredim
a member of any of various Orthodox Jewish sects characterized by strict adherence to the traditional form of Jewish law and rejection of modern secular culture, many of whom do not recognize the modern state of Israel as a spiritual authority.
WRITER'S STATEMENT OF PURPOSE:
by Phillip Guttmann
In an effort to survive near extinction 75 years ago, ultra-religious Jews, in their many different sects, have created large families and strictly private communities as a means to rebuild. In Haredi communities, following God’s commandments as spelled out in the Torah and Talmud are non-negotiable. Close-knit families look inward and find meaning in their traditions.
But in a contemporary world, modern problems impact even these ultra insular communities. Every day, ultra-religious Jews face the same issues as people from the outside world: drug abuse, mental illness, questions about gender and sexual orientation, strained marriages and much more. But in the Hasidic code, such problems are forbidden and any displays of these problems is even more taboo. In Los Angeles, New York, Jerusalem, and everywhere that exist Hasidic Jews, live individuals hiding these painful struggles under their black hats and sheitels (wigs).
Hasidic Jews are typically born into large, tight-knit families, blocks away from the secular world, but a million miles away experientially. Children typically learn to speak Yiddish first and English second. Schools (or Yeshivas) in ultra-orthodox neighborhoods may provide some education but steer boys more towards the Talmud than mathematics or science. The bulk of these individuals’ entire worlds exist within a mile of their home.
Every year many Hasidic Jews try to escape: some flee, some overdose, and some turn to suicide as their only way out. In New York, a groundbreaking organization called Footsteps helps those in such insular worlds dying to break free. But breaking away means starting over, learning completely foreign customs and traditions, and often times means losing entire support systems. Many who are desperate to leave never do because they simply don’t know how.
BLACK HAT aims to examine one such story from the Haredi community. The film follows twenty-four hours in the life of one Hasidic man that must wrestle with his own repressed identity. Through Shmuel’s story, we aspire to raise the notion that these often mysterious and misunderstood religious individuals, typically only seen by the outside world on streets covered by hats and sheitels, are perhaps more complex - more like us - than we previously imagined.
Hasidism started in Galicia in the 18th century as a response to formal, stuffy Jewish liturgy of the time.
Today it has faced near annihilation (mid 20th century) and fought to come back and survive with Hasidic families tending towards large families with an average of 8 children to re-grow.
Over the years, Hasidism has split into dozens of sects that interpret the Torah and the Talmud differently and see issues like Israel’s existence or how to interact or not interact with non Jewish communities, differently. Sects like the Satmer movement, believe that Israel cannot exist properly until the return of the Messiah and prefer as little contact with non religious Jews as possible, while the Chabad movement recognizes Israel as the home of the Jewish nation and takes an outward approach, extending beyond their communities to spread the word of the Torah to non-believers.
Hasidim, particularly Chabad, can be found in nearly every country and major city, though, tend towards smaller numbers. The largest communities of Hasidim can be found in Israel and New York City, and also have sizable communities in Paris, London, Montreal, Miami and Los Angeles.
In 1933, the total world population of Jews was estimated at about 18 million. 85 years later in 2018, the total world population is estimated at about 15 million. That means that the deficit of 6 million Jews created by the Holocaust is beginning to regrow. This can be in part attributed to the Haredi movement.
Most Haredi Jews live in Israel in Haredi neighborhoods. The current total population of Haredi Jews in Israel is over 1 million (out of over 6 million Jews in Israel). In New York, the estimated Haredi population is over 90,000. And in Los Angeles, where our story takes place, there are close to 15,000 Haredi Jews.
DIRECTOR'S ARTISTIC STATEMENT:
by Sarah Smith
BLACK HAT is a story about loneliness and the feeling of being trapped between two worlds. In our artistic approach we will use a 4 x 3 aspect ratio to exploit the frame itself to express the internal claustrophobia that the main character Shmuel feels. Color and sound design are additional tools we will use by contrasting the darker more somber colors and quieter sounds within his home, against the more vibrant colors and sounds of the club he visits. Since this is a day-in-the-life story, the scenes will feel lived-in and natural, not staged with lots of traditional coverage. By largely using a hand-held camera, we hope to create a more spontaneous feeling that this story is casually unfolding before us so that when we reach the climax of our story, where Shmuel is forced to choose one life or the other, it will feel bigger and more profound. I look to Robert Bresson and his seminal work Pickpocket for how he built to the moment of transcendent catharsis for Michel. Shmuel will approach a similar moment in the bar, only to be too frightened to fully accept it. For Shmuel, catharsis is yet to come. But the film ends on a hopeful note of understanding and connection when a Hasidic man who also harbors the same secret, returns Shmuel’s miss-placed black hat. Ultimately, this is a character study of a man searching for his place in the world, and our artistic approach will aim to support this main theme.
Adam Silver is a Chicago native based in Los Angeles. Film: Velvet Buzzsaw, The Runaways, Sorta' Horny, Marla, Excision, The Kari Files. Television: NCIS, Transparent, Masters of Sex, The Great Indoors, Community, Wedding Band, Torchwood, Californication. He has worked in the theatre internationally, regionally, and in Chicago and Los Angeles.
Sebastian Velmont’s love for wanting to become apart of the world of entertainment arose from PBS Masterpiece Theatre, which he felt was classy, sexy, and gritty all rolled into one yet it lacked people that represented him. He set out to perform and create artistic work that represented and showcased people of color in all unique, rich, and eccentric facets, which is what drew him into Black Hat.
Sebastian has appeared on The Bold & The Beautiful, Supergirl, and in development on Darcy’s Tales, an Original Series based on a fictional prequel to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in which he lives out Mr. Darcy’s reckless past.
You can now find Sebastian managing the development of a multicultural streaming platform geared towards the eccentric stories that we rarely see nor hear of people of color from around the world.
Shelly was born and lived the first eight years of his life in the Bronx, N.Y. and then moved to West New York, N.J. He graduated Yeshiva University followed by graduate work at Syracuse University, after which he returned to N.Y.C. to begin his acting career. Ten years later he moved to Los Angeles. Shelly has performed in well over 150 plays mostly in New York City and here in Los Angeles. He toured with the 24th Street Theaters’ highly acclaimed production of WALKING THE TIGHTROPE. This is his third production with the West Coast Jewish Theater having previously been seen in LOVE, DREAMS AND LOST UNCLES and NEW JERUSALEM. He has appeared in commercials, on soap operas, and television shows, most recently on THE GOLDBERGS and before that on many episodic series including such memorable shows as HILL STREET BLUES, HUNTER, DALLAS and recurred on KNOT’S LANDING as Det. Pete Reynolds. He has starred in many short films including award winners THE IMPOSSIBLE JOY, THE LEPIDOCTOR, THE LAST DAY, BARTIME, MY CLAIRE and CALIFORNIA DREAMING. He just recently finished shooting BLACK HAT and THE ANARCHISTS’ CONVENTION. His most recent feature is THE GREAT ILLUSION, currently in postproduction, and some earlier films in which he can be seen are BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED. WILD ROOMIES, JUMPING FOR JOY and DATING DAISY and MIRIAM. Television movies include CHILDREN OF THE BRIDE and THE DARKLING.
"Jacob" (Man in Bar)
Among his film credits, Alan Lennick executive produced and co-starred in the award-winning, independent feature film, "Bahamian Son" and co-started in “Whalebone,” an award-winning short. His theatre credits include the European premier of "National Anthems" (Edinburgh Fringe Festival), "Star Wars Trilogy in 30 Minutes" (Coronet Theatre, LA), "Wreckage" (Theatre 70, NYC) and "Exit the King" (Pearl Theatre Co, NYC). Alan graduated from the USC School of Dramatic Arts. Alan works in the financial services industry and is a Senior VP and Regional Director with Hilltop Securities.
Yaniv is an award-winning director, producer and actor originally from Israel. Yaniv started off as an actor in New York where he attended the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. After Yaniv moved to Los Angeles in 2006, he appeared on shows like NCIS: Los Angeles, The Beast, Jon Avnet's web-series Kendra, USA Network show Dig, Marc Forster's 2013 summer blockbuster World War Z and in several national commercials, including a SuperBowl spot for Verizon. Yaniv made his directorial debut with Queen Mimi, a feature documentary that tells the story of one woman’s journey through homelessness, which won many awards around the world. Queen Mimi was granted a worldwide distribution deal with Netflix. Yaniv is currently working on a new documentary Brainwashed #MeToo, which reveals how cinema has contributed to the negative treatment of women worldwide, a new TV series The Game Caller about a cult in Washington DC in the 1970s, and a narrative feature film of his critically acclaimed documentary Queen Mimi.
WRITER / CO-PRODUCER
Phillip wrote BLACK HAT in response to his own experiences being Jewish but also based on his time spent working closely with the New York Haredi community at Footsteps. Phillip saw first hand the struggle those seeking an outside, secular life face and has became inspired to tell these stories. In addition to BLACK HAT, Phillip is the co-creator and writer for the web series Tender Touches, which won 1st place at the 2018 AT&T create-a-thon. Phillip also wrote the story for D. Asian, a 2015 short film that was nominated for and won several film festival awards around the globe. Phillip earned his MFA at the New School in New York and his MSW at New York University. Phillip has written many plays and worked off and on Broadway in New York before spending several years working with people and on social justice issues as a social worker at Footsteps, The Office of the Appellate Defender and Legal Aid. In 2017, Phillip moved to Los Angeles to refocus again on his writing career. In addition to his work on Tender Touches he's written a full length feature screenplay, Unchosen, another story dealing with the Hasidic community, about a young man who must choose between his dream of acting or his ultra-religious way of life.
CO-PRODUCER / 1st AD
After studying and performing with The Second City in Chicago, Loriel attended Columbia College, during which she produced uPressplay productions Palooka, Soldier, and Roscoe Village. While in Chicago, Loriel worked in casting for Prison Break, Stranger Than Fiction, and Flags of Our Fathers. After moving to Los Angeles, she has worked over the last 13 years on numerous high-profile productions such as, Big Love, Get Smart, Revenge, Desperate Housewives, Glee, and American Horror Story. Currently, Loriel is developing and producing various television and short form projects, and works with Writer/Producer, Maria Arena Bell at Vitameatavegamin Productions.
Sarah Smith is a Los Angeles based filmmaker and television producer. She is the co-creator and director of the web series Tender Touches, which won 1st place at the 2018 AT&T create-a-thon. In 2015 she debuted her award winning short film D.Aisan which went on to screen at over 35 festivals across the globe including: Palm Springs ShortFest, Iris Prize (shortlisted 30K prize), Rhode Island International Film Festival (Director’s Choice), DC Independent Film Festival (Best Short) amongst many others. Sarah was also awarded the 2017 AT&T Underrepresented Filmmaker Award for D.Asian, presented by Patty Jenkins. Sarah has written for The Young & the Restless, where she and her team won a WGA award for outstanding scripted daytime drama in 2013. In addition to her writing and producing work, Sarah has edited numerous music videos, short films, and the two feature films Saint Janet and Armless (an official selection to the NEXT category of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival). Sarah is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Jeff Tomcho has spent the last 12 years working on film projects throughout the world. A Midwest native, Jeff graduated with a BFA in Cinematography from Columbia College Chicago. He went on to work his way through the camera department on such Hollywood productions as Wanted, Public Enemies, The Muppets, and Lone Survivor in addition to many broadcast series such as NBC’s ER, ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, and HBO’s LUCK. He went on to become a Cinematographer and has shot many short films including After School starring Piper de Palma and Ruby Modine (premiered at RIIFF 2016) and Penny Sucker starring James Paxton (HollyShorts Film Fest 2017). He’s also collaborated with director Erin Elders on the acclaimed Everyone’s Summer of ’95 music video for Iron & Wine starring David Dastmalchian. Jeff’s recently served as Director of Photography for producer Peter Berg’s The War Fighters, a docu-series which recently premiered on History Channel.
Raney Shockne is an American music composer and producer based in Los Angeles. He has written and produced songs for Giorgio Moroder, Britney Spears, Foxes, Matthew Koma, Leona Lewis and others. His score and songwriting collaborations have appeared in over 30 films and 100 televisions shows to date. Shockne is perhaps best known as the composer of USA drama Queen of the South, CBS primetime comedy Kevin Can Wait, FX's Anger Management, the film The To Do List (Aubrey Plaza), and Fame, where his remake of the title song reached the American Billboard Hot 100. Additionally, Shockne's current video game credits include Star Wars Battlefront II, Tron RUN/r, Dragon Age: Inquisition and The Sims franchise.
BLACK HAT was made possible through a fiscal sponsorship through Film Independent, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization.