‘Eruv’ filmmaker Aaron Rotenberg
Leading up to the 28th Washington Jewish Film Festival, we asked our filmmakers a few questions about their featured films.
In this edition, Director Aaron Rotenberg talks Eruv
What inspired you to tell the story of your subject or the story depicted in your film?
I had been working on a film about Jewish place, diaspora, and the search for home, before making “Eruv”. I was working with the ritual symbol of the sukkah, and as we learn at the beginning of the Talmudic tractate of Sukkah, the height requirements of a sukkah are derived from the eruv. A friend met an architect named Piper Bernbaum in line for a play and he later related a conversation he had with her about her research into the eruv as an urban place-making device and “its ability to negotiate space, people, community and spiritual practice within the plurality found in our urban surroundings”. I decided I needed to meet this architect, and the interview I recorded with Piper ended up as the kernel of the film.
What was a particular obstacle you faced while making this film?
I imagined the concept of eruv as bringing together the whole city into one’s backyard. I wanted to bring a fullness of imagery, with layers and textures that correlated with the varied experiences that happen within an eruv, all enclosed within the boundaries of a short film. I also wanted to conjure the feeling of tenuousness, of “hanging from a thread”, of a collection of impressions for the viewer to go over and form for themselves later, just as we ultimately use our impressions of a community to form our own ideas of Jewish spaces. I didn’t really know how to include all of these ideas, along with Piper’s interview. The film represents an attempt at piecing it together.
What do you want audiences to walk away with after screening your film?
I’d like audiences to think about how they conceive of Jewish space, and how those ideas intersect with the larger communities they are a part of.
Why do you think Washington, DC is a valuable location to screen your film?
DC is a large Jewish centre, whos eruv I have had the privilege of relying on, while often visiting good friends during my years in college (Shout-out to Gil and Anna). In addition to the downtown DC eruv, there is also a Silver Spring eruv and a Rockville-North Bethesda Eruv, so it is clearly a relevant subject for DC.
What films or filmmakers have been the most influential to you?
I am influenced by personal Jewish films of Jonas Mekas, Alan Berliner, David Perlov and Su Freidrich. I’ve also been influenced by the process-based films of my teachers Phil Hoffman and Mike Hoolboom.
Why are Jewish-interest films important today?
Jewish films are a great way to make learning about Jewish (even halachic ideas, like “eruv”) accessible to everyone. It’s also an opportunity to approach topics of Jewish interest in creative and visual ways. As a visual thinker, coming from a text-based tradition, I feel that Jewish-interest films offer such a rich way to approach Jewish learning and living.