‘Wendy’s Shabbat’ filmmaker Rachel Myers
Leading up to the 28th Washington Jewish Film Festival, we asked our filmmakers a few questions about their featured films.
In this edition, Director Rachel Myers discusses Wendy’s Shabbat
What inspired you to tell the story of your subject or the story depicted in your film?
I wanted to celebrate the ways in which people share unique moments in their lives and shine a light on the joy of the mundane and every day. As storytellers we are tasked with many types of narratives, some of which are sad or challenging. I wanted to make a film that was uplifting and honest but celebratory. The documentary is really about finding connection in the most unlikely places. My 88-year- old grandmother is the protagonist of this film and it was important to me as a filmmaker to connect personally and show the range in her life while also the challenges of aging and loneliness while looking for community. When I put the project together and thought to bring out my team to shoot our film I wasn’t considering what the impact might be on a larger scale I was only thinking about this small nugget of life in the sweet way that people engage and connect around this evening to support one another in sharing community.
What was a particular obstacle you faced while making this film?
In advance of shooting I had storyboarded what our shots would be and outlined the script, for the arc of the narrative. One vehicle (literally) was shooting our film’s protagonist traveling on her daily routine in her little golf cart through her palm desert community. There were moments when our crew was literally running along side of the golf cart and also borrowing neighbors golf carts to shoot side by side coverage while driving. It made for some golf cart acrobatics down the highway to get the shots we needed. The spectacle must’ve looked pretty hilarious from the vantage point of a passerby. On a more personal note, my 88-year-old grandmother is the subject of our film and there was a tremendous amount of vulnerability in what she shared in her interview and the personal private moments we covered while filming her. As a granddaughter this made me feel protective of how she was to be portrayed but as a filmmaker I felt conflicted but responsible because I wanted to be honest in her representation and storytelling about the challenges of aging while people around you begin to pass away and making friendships at an older stage in life. Also, since filming 1 year ago, 3 members of their community who are featured in the film have passed away. It is emotional and challenging because you are reminded of how fleeting life is. I feel fortunate to have met them and to have been able to share this story.
What do you want audiences to walk away with after screening your film?
My film is about a group of Jewish senior citizens gathering to celebrate Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath). The film itself is about finding community in the most unlikely places. These seniors gather at the Wendy’s fast food restaurant for convenience and have done so for eight years. There are many seniors aging in this country in isolation and loneliness and the film is about engaging in community while facing questions of your own mortality. Beyond the film there has been a larger reaction of people hearing about the story and the film and starting their own Shabbat gatherings (at fast food restaurants).The experience was so profoundly heartwarming and I am very grateful that we could capture this special shared event on film for other communities to see.
Why do you think Washington, DC is a valuable location to screen your film?
DC has long been known as a center for Jewish life and political leadership. I think the screening of the film at the DC Jewish festival is perfect for the community and festival goers in the greater area to engage in Jewish content of the film. I’m very excited for it to be seen by audiences in the area.
What films or filmmakers have been the most influential to you?
I am a first time director for “Wendy’s Shabbat” and professionally work as a production designer in the film industry. For this reason the movies that I loved most and were most influential are those with amazing visuals in their projects – Filmmakers and Designers Julie Taymor, Baz Luhrman and Catherine Martin, Dante Ferretti, Sarah Greenwood. Other favorite directors include- Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Lasse Hallström, Mike Mills, Wes Anderson.
Why are Jewish-interest films important today?
When I got into the industry 20 years ago my answer (as both artist and as a Jew) – would have been “it’s about making work that makes people think and feel”; and that it’s the responsibility of the artist to comment on the world and offer another perspective of its beauty and criticism. Today my answer is very much the same. Cinema, theater and music have a magic of inviting viewers in and seducing them with connection to engage in lives different from our own and to peer into another world. It’s a way to engage with people emotionally and personally that you may never meet. Politically, I feel like we are in the moment in our country where we are so divided as a nation and people are angry. This chasm made me want to make something that would be positive, detailing the sweetness of and everyday life story and the minutia and connection between people. Particularly something that deals with my own Jewish identity. I think it is a dangerous moment with rising Anti-Semitism in the United States and as Jewish communities and culture changes with intermarriage, so does how we connect and celebrate Jewish identity. It’s important culturally within the Jewish community to celebrate our past and future. My next project that I will direct is a feature film that also centers around a Jewish family. It’s easy to create work that is personal in this nature and it’s important to tell our own stories within our communities and to share with others beyond the Jewish audience. Ironically this film about aging also harkens back to where I started as an artist. One of my first jobs in high school was teaching art therapy classes to seniors in the Jewish nursing home where my other grandmother Miriam was living and I was amazed by how the seniors there who suffered with dementia, Parkinson’s and other diseases while losing access to their own physicality and bodies would use time in the art classes to express a different voice. I was very inspired by them and I think work that there is often a stigma around aging and the elderly in our communities and I hope that this film paints a portrait of ways to vividly live life and engage at any age.