Filmmaker Spotlight:
‘Under the Bar’ filmmaker Craig Schattner

Leading up to the 28th Washington Jewish Film Festival, we asked our filmmakers a few questions about their featured films.
In this edition, Director Craig Schattner discusses Under the Bar.

What inspired you to tell the story of your subject or the story depicted in your film?

Strength isn’t a word I grew up associating with Orthodox women. Really, I had very little insight into Orthodox culture, but what I heard always revolved around tradition, family, and subservience. When I was tipped off to this subset of women who were barbell training, it immediately made me rethink my preconceived notions of Orthodox women. And when I discovered that many of these women lift while they’re covered, their dedication, and not just their strength, seemed groundbreaking. I wanted to open my eyes up to the daily routine of the Orthodox mother and share that insight with others, while giving the women a platform to see their strength and be proud of it.


Still from ‘Under the Bar’

What was a particular obstacle you faced while making this film? 

Access was an issue. The Woodmere community in the Five Towns of Long Island is very tight knit and I was an outsider. I wanted to film at a local synagogue and was shot down. But Inna, the owner of the gym, introduced me to some truly incredible women. And their trust in her was huge in them trusting me. I think it helps that I’m a crew of one, so I can get access to and comfort with my subjects in a truly personal way.


What do you want audiences to walk away with after screening your film?

I want audiences to walk away with a newfound respect for Orthodox Jewish women – what it takes to be a mother, a wife, a religious individual, and a dedicated weight lifter is not easy. I want Orthodox viewers to walk away feeling their culture was well represented, and perhaps feeling inspired to start some new form of personal expression themselves.


Why do you think Washington, DC is a valuable location to screen your film?

Being a member of the community and surrounding area for most of my life, I’ve found my own Jewish identity in DC. I was connected with many of my Jewish friends here through Birthright and subsequent participation in Jewish events. It’s small but mighty, but the community here is really pushing the intellectual, arts, and culture scene for Jews in America to new heights. And I think the audience will really understand the themes of the film and be sensitive to its subjects. Fitness is a big here. Religion is big. And where they intersect is part of what the film explores.¬†Personally, it feels like a homecoming – having moved to New York in 2015 – to share my work where my film career began.


Director Craig Schattner

What films or filmmakers have been the most influential to you?

Steve James, the filmmaker behind Hoop Dreams (1994), really shaped my idea of documentary filmmaking. As a basketball player, it tapped into my love for the game, but after watching the film multiple times over the years, you realize it’s about so much more than basketball. I try to marry my interests with my curiosity in my own productions. I love fitness and I’m Jewish, but had little exposure to Orthodox Judaism in my life, so pursuing Under the Bar felt natural to me. James connects his hometown of Chicago to most of his productions and you can tell he loves the city. I firmly believe if you’re not connected to the work you’re doing, the product will reflect that.


Why are Jewish-interest films important today?

Jewish-interest films are important today because I think there are so many unknowns about Jewish culture and identity, both among the general public and Jews ourselves. For some Jewish viewers, my film may be the first time they’ve ever seen an Orthodox Jewish woman exercising, and that may open their minds to other areas of their own culture. It’s also a religion with roots all over the world and film is a way to connect us with inspirational or heartfelt or political stories that don’t reach us every day.

Watch Under the Bar during the 28th Washington Jewish Film Festival.

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