STAMFORD – “David” is a new indie film about two 11-year-old boys living in Brooklyn, one Muslim and one Orthodox Jewish, who become friends. Recently awarded the Ecumenical Prize at the Montreal World Film Festival, the film has been selected to open the 10th annual Jewish Arts & Film Festival of Fairfield County, presented by the Stamford JCC, on Oct. 29.
“It was the most well-liked film screened by the committee,” says Nancy Schiffman, assistant executive director of the JCC.
Joel Fendelman is co-writer and co-director of the film. A graduate of the Savannah School of Art and Design living in Brooklyn, N.Y., he says that the story idea came to him from an ongoing personal quest to understand identity, his and that of others.
“I grew up in Miami, where most of the population is Hispanic and I was one of the very few Jewish kids in my high school,” he says. “It’s not that I experienced extreme prejudice or anything like that, but just something that I think most people can relate to, the feeling of not fitting in. Fast-forward 15 years, and I’m living in New York City post 9/11. I remember riding the subway and seeing a traditionally dressed Muslim man enter the train, carrying a bag. The first thoughts that came to mind were, ‘I wonder if he’s a terrorist. Is that a bomb in his bag?’ Days later, I was bothered by my ignorance. I wanted to learn more about Muslim Arab culture, because there had to be more to it than the sliver we see on the news.”
As a Jewish American, Fendelman, 30, says that a large part of the journey in writing “David” was his own exploration of identity. For a year and a half, he worked via Skype with co-writer Patrick Daly, while exploring various Jewish and Muslim communities. He lived for a month in the Old City of Jerusalem, studying at a yeshiva, and spent time in the Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods of Brooklyn. He volunteered at the Arab American Association in Bay Ridge, where he helped teach English to Immigrant Muslim women and led a summer youth group.
“When I was in a Jewish community, I felt like I was a fellow brother to those I saw around me,” he says. “When I was in Bay Ridge, I would see people going to the mosque and then out for Chinese food, and there’s a brotherhood there as well that I could really appreciate. The flip side is that, when you’re not part of a certain identity, it becomes a vehicle for separation.”
“David” has been screened at several film festivals to both Jewish and Muslim audiences. At one venue, Binyomin and Muatasem, the two young leads, answered audience questions after the screening. “Someone asked what it was like to work together,” Fendelman recalls. “Binyomin responded, ‘I was nervous about working with a Muslim kid and after the first day, I realized that we’re the same and now we’re Facebook friends.’
When I look at the film, particularly the ending, the meaning of ‘identity’ really comes alive for me. The film asks the question, ‘Can Daud and Yoav be friends?’ As an idealist, I say yes. As a realist, I say no. The only thing left is to ask why.”
“David” will be screened at the Jewish Arts and Film Festival of Fairfield County on Saturday, Oct. 29, 8 p.m., at The State Cinema, 990 Hope St., Stamford.
The Festival will run from Saturday, Oct. 19 through Sunday, Nov. 13. For a full list of Festival events visit www.jewishartsandfilm.org or call (203) 322-7900.