The sixth annual Jewish Eye, which bills itself as a World Jewish Film Festival, marked a cinematic milestone this week when it served as the venue for the official Israeli premiere of “A Light for Greytowers,” a full-length strictly by-women, for-women production developed under the guidance of rabbinical authorities.

Directed by Hollywood filmmaker Robin Garbose, the film, which is based on the novel of the same name, tells the story of a young Jewish girl orphaned in Victorian England and left in the care of an orphanage and its draconian matron. When it was released last year, it earned headlines not only for its single-gender cast and crew – which included Bracha Leeds, co-director of the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Student Center at the University of California at Berkeley – but for its single-gender audience as well.

Festival director Gady Castel said that the decision to include a for-women-only film in a festival open to the general public was not without controversy, but that he had “no doubts we were right to screen it” during the event’s nine days of showings at the International Conference Center of the Ashkelon Academic College. In keeping with stipulations from the distributor that men could not view the movie, Castel did not screen “A Light for Greytowers,” but he saw audience members’ reactions as they left the theater.

“Some of the women had tears in their eyes,” he related. “They were very moved by the film.

“This is a Jewish festival,” added Castel. “It is important to show Jewish life from all the angles that we are able to. This is a good film and meets our goal of having quality material that shows the diversity of the Jewish world.”

According to Castel, more than 100 women from a variety of backgrounds attended each screening of the film.

All told, the Jewish Eye screened material from 24 different countries; among its other offerings was “Gut Shabbes Vietnam,” a documentary about the establishment of the first full-time Chabad-Lubavitch center in Ho Chi Minh City by Rabbi Menachem and Rachel Hartman.

The sixth annual Jewish Eye film festival was held at the Ashkelon Academic College.
The sixth annual Jewish Eye film festival was held at the Ashkelon Academic College.

Story of Faith

For her part, Garbose said that the inclusion of her film on the festival’s agenda enabled it to reach an eclectic Israeli audience. More than 30,000 Jewish and non-Jewish women and girls have seen “A Light for Greytowers” in the United States, she said, drawn to the main character’s story of faith and inner strength in the face of losing her mother.

“I think what the women connected with most is the strength of the mother-daughter bond,” Garbose said of the Israeli screenings. “This is something all women relate to, and because this was a Jewish audience, even though most had grown up on non-religious kibbutzim, they still related strongly to the girl’s desire to hold onto her Jewish identity and spirituality. It struck a chord with them.”

After each of the showings at the festival, Garbose and two of her cast members, Rivka Segal and Mimi Farb, answered audience members’ questions. Although some focused on the filmmakers’ adherence to Jewish law during the film’s production, others expressed the novelty of being able to screen a film in an all-female setting.

Garbose said that future plans include a simultaneous run in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv this Chanukah, and a special Mothers’ Day showing in Washington, D.C., hosted by Hadassah Lieberman – wife of U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman – and Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Nechoma Shemtov.

“This film is opening up new opportunities for mothers and daughters, and women in general, to share something that expresses the unique experiences of women,” stated Garbose. “It is turning out to be a real bridge builder.”