Each year, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival offers a wide variety of films exploring stories from different walks of life and movies that resonate with diverse tastes. In this special Director’s Cut section of the AJT, we go behind the scenes with three directors and explore three very distinct and gripping films from the upcoming festival. We learn more about the directors’ creative process, their inspirations, and what they hope the audiences takes away from their films.
Set in 1980s New York, Eric Steel’s “Minyan” tells the story of David, an 18-year-old Yeshiva student living in Brooklyn with his overbearing mother and abusive father. Often feeling like a fish out of water, David’s closest companions are his grandfather and a pair of elderly, closeted Jewish men who live down the hall from him. He feels stifled by the expectations of his conservative, religious community and seeks comfort through various ways, including alcohol, books, and eventually even a gay bar. David begins to experience a sexual and spiritual awakening and struggles to come to terms with what it means to be an immigrant, gay, and Jewish.
“Minyan” is based on a short story by David Bezmozgis. Steel explained his interest. “I was completely taken in by David Bezmozgis’ short story when I first read it in 2004. It was the last story in the collection, and what I loved about it was after having read all the stories that preceded it, I had come to know the character of David. I was moved by the changes I saw in him.”
One goal of the film is adding another voice to the discussion of LGBTQ+ in Judaism.
“There’s been a very vibrant, productive conversation about LGBTQ+ Judaism before I even thought of making ‘Minyan,’” Steel said. “I’m very grateful to have heard and explored these discourses, to have been guided by the wisdom and experience of rabbis and wise Jews. This conversation is well underway, is ongoing and challenging, and certainly not completed.”
Steel talked about his inspiration adapting the film from the original short story, and how moments from the film stemmed from his own life experiences.
“I felt compelled by the example David Bezmozgis set as a storyteller and the kind of authenticity and detail he wove through the story,” Steel said. “There are many moments in the film that flowed from my experience, so that the DNA of the film feels like mine (and David Bezmozgis’). Once the story had its own DNA, there was still a lot to discover – threads that connect immigrant life, queer life, Jewish life – especially at a moment in time in the late 1980s when AIDS was crashing down on New York City with a ruthless cruelty, a kind of horror many Jews understand too well.”