Natalie Portman's directorial debut just completed its first week in theaters in the United States. "A Tale of Love and Darkness" started off with a limited theatrical run - just a few theaters in New York and Los Angeles to test the viability of a (slightly) wider release.
I caught the film on Thursday night at the Landmark Theater on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, a few short miles from the heart of the biggest Jewish community this side of the Mississippi.
I was the only person in the theater.
This is a problem.
I'm going to get a little more personal here than I usually get in these blog posts. As some of my readers know, I am a filmmaker, a practicing Jew, and an Israeli-American.
I've been frustrated to see that there's really very little media that speaks directly to my sub-cultural experience. "Jewish" content in Hollywood tends to be trite and superficial, often written by Jews who, themselves, have very limited (perhaps once a year) contact with the Jewish faith. Israel, when it appears in films at all, is usually nothing more than a military/intelligence factory that produces Zohan-like super-spies.
But Jewish-themed and Israel-themed films simply haven't been getting enough of an audience, so the simple task of getting them made is nearly impossible. Natalie Portman, with all of her star-power, had to fight for her film's $4M budget (she produced "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" for $28M, which, I'm sure, was much easier to raise). Other filmmakers who want to make films for the Jewish audience have to fight just as hard, but raise much less. My own Jewish-themed feature was made for a tiny fraction of Portman's budget, and I haven't been able to raise any money for significant Jewish-themed projects since.
If we want to see Jews humanized on a global scale, or if we want to see Israel presented in far greater complexity than Hollywood tends to deliver, we need to be the initial audience that justifies the big investments required to broadcast those stories. These films won't get made without an audience to justify the investment. We need to be that audience.
You can find more information about the film, including showtimes at the Focus Features website: http://www.focusfeatures.com/loveanddarkness