Daniel Burman (Waiting for the Messiah, NYJFF 2002; Lost Embrace, NYJFF 2005; Empty Nest, NYJFF 2009) returns to the NYJFF having made his first documentary, 36 Righteous Men/Los 36 Justos. Camera in hand, Burman joins a group of Orthodox Jews on their annual pilgrimage to the tombs of Tzaddikim (righteous men) in Russia, Ukraine and Poland, culminating at the tomb of the 17th-century spiritual leader, the Baal Shem Tov. To incorporate his fellow travelers’ views, the director occasionally handed over the camera to one of them. “I found it very interesting what people would focus on who have never filmed before,” he explained during the Q&A.
Intrigued by the Jewish mystical belief in 36 hidden Tzaddikim who are always on this earth yet must remain anonymous, Burman takes the audience on an intimate journey across 2,500 miles and into his own identity as a Jew. Although he didn’t undergo a “transcendental change,” he said during the post-screening Q&A, the trip did change his prejudices about Orthodox Jews and this kind of pilgrimage.
After both screenings Burman was asked whether women played any significant roles on his journey or as Tzaddikim. “This question comes up after every screening of the film,” Burman said smiling, adding that, “women are a great subject.” He explained that although righteous women existed, he didn’t want to specifically look for them out of political correctness. “It seemed more honest to me to tell the story the way I experienced it,” he said.
Aaron Galliner, 2011 Blogger and Festival Volunteer