It was incredible to make this project with three generations of women in my family. My grandmother was the onscreen talent and my mother was the producer. I thought it was important in directing this documentary to show a window into this community and to tell an optimistic story of these seniors who are practicing Shabbat in a way that is truly about finding community connection.
Our film is a small movie that my grandmother, Roberta Mahler, starred in about what can often be seen among seniors, including the isolation process of aging and finding community amidst that challenge. I put this project together in a very short amount of time, and I made it because I cared about the content. I never would have had any expectation that it would be received in the way that it has.
While this was my directorial debut, I have been working in the film industry for over a decade so I had comfort with shooting with the crew. The team was made up of filmmaker friends of mine who brought their talents and professional experience to our film. I think often women filmmakers tell themselves they can’t do things and impose limitations on themselves and their projects without actually knowing how difficult something might be, and that just wasn’t the case on this project. We were all fully committed to telling this story.
My team in making the film were also all amazing women, including my cinematographer, Jeanne Tyson, editor, Dana Turkmen, and field producer, Julianna Shatz. I loved working with this group and it was the first time I’ve ever made something with all women. We tried in the aesthetic to capture the style and aesthetic of a narrative independent in the way that the film was shot, and particularly within the framing and coverage.
Further, I’ve never worked with my mother in a business capacity like the relationship between producer and director before. I was delighted to discover was that it was remarkably easy and that both of us conducted ourselves in a professionalism that was strengthened from the comfort of our mother-daughter relationship. My mother had a 30-year career as a teacher and school principal so she was well-versed in the ways of balancing logistics, coordination, scheduling and budgets skills that were easily transferable to her roles in a producing capacity. In regard to working with my grandmother, on-camera she was very easy to collaborate with and shoot. It was very fruitful to be able to capture her story on film.
I’ve learned from this process that the adage of just getting your projects made is actually true. A little tenacity combined with putting together a team of the right talents goes a very long way in the success. Dana Turkey and I worked very hard on the editing process, and spent many months tinkering with which pieces of footage to use from the over 20 hours of film that we initially shot. The challenge with short filmmaking is deciding which pieces to include, particularly in a documentary film where everything feels precious because of the connection to your characters. So in many ways it’s hard to make the types of decisions for letting things fall to the cutting room floor.
I didn’t have a proper budget when I started the process so I called in favors, and put the film together piece by piece. What I found was that people were happy to share their talents and equipment if they found something to be worthwhile like this story proved to be. I hadn’t asked for those kinds of favors from my film friends and community before, but I was determined to put this story into the world through this film. I was also amazed by how supportive other filmmakers have been in sharing their tips and resources in the process. Feedback on screenings, contacts and people’s emotional connections with making community in the unlikeliest of places has really been a wonderful muscle in making it all happen. MM
Wendy’s Shabbat screened at Tribeca Film Festival 2018. For info on upcoming festival and theatrical screenings, visit the film’s website here. All images courtesy of 3 Penny Design.