Arts Post
Posted at 01:57 PM ET, 03/28/2012

Controversy erupts around ‘Standing Silent’ documentary

A controversy erupted this week over “Standing Silent”, a documentary film about sexual abuse in Baltimore’s Orthodox Jewish community, reported the JTA, a news service that covers the Jewish world.

It all started in September, when L.A.Jewish Film Festival chief Hilary Helstein wrote an email to other Jewish film festival directors warning about the danger of showing “Standing Silent,” and saying that while it was well made, “Our committee felt with a community that reveres it’s [sic] rabbis this was not something they wanted to show.”

That email was not made public until last week during a March 20 screening of the film in Hartford. Steve Shaw, a member of the Hartford Jewish Film Festival, showed the film’s producer, Scott Rosenfelt, a copy of the Helstein email. Shaw wanted to use it during a Q and A session after the film to demonstrate that,“our rabbis in West Hartford not only endorsed showing the film, but they actually sponsored the entire evening,” Shaw said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post.

“I read a quote from the email at the Q and A to show that the response in other communities had not been as welcoming,” Shaw said.

Rosenfelt called the email the “most unprofessional act” he has seen in his 35-year career. Soon after, he fired back a pointed email.

“The idea that a festival director would go behind the back of a filmmaker and do this gives me great pause to ever recommend your festival to anyone,” Rosenfelt wrote in an email to Helstein on March 22. “As you know, I’ve produced films such as ‘Home Alone,’ so I know a couple of people in the business. I plan on letting [sic] EVERYONE I know to stay away from you and your festival, because you are clearly not someone who supports filmmakers.”

Rosenfelt concluded by calling Helstein “a disgrace to Judaism, and not only that, a disgrace to all humanity.”

In an interview with The Washington Post, Rosenfelt said that he ”went a little overboard with saying she was a disgrace to humanity. But unfortunately, whether she realizes it or not, anyone who does this is perpetuating the problem that victims have had for years in telling their stories. The constant refrain is protect the rabbis or perpetrators first and deal with the victims second. The film is about the need for a paradigm shift in addressing the issue.”

Helstein did not return calls or emails for comment. But John Fishel, the L.A.Jewish festival chairman, told JTA that the committee did not feel the film was appropriate and was concerned that it would insite controversy that would overshadow the film itself.”

By  |  01:57 PM ET, 03/28/2012

 
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