Unorthodox (working title: Awaken) – an Introduction

Unorthodox (working title: Awaken) – an Introduction

Seeing as this is my very first post about Unorthodox (the film formerly known as Awaken) I figured I’d write an intro. Then I’ll move on to sharing my own journey through the world of documentary filmmaking.

Here’s a brief synopsis:

Unorthodox is framed by own story: as a teenager, I left the modern Orthodox Jewish community in which I was raised. After I graduated from high school, I watched as my friends — who, like me, were rebellious — spent a year studying in Israel. When they returned to America one year later, almost all of them had become religiously observant. This year in Israel is a rite of passage for most teenagers brought up in the American Orthodox Jewish community: nearly all high school graduates, both religious and non-religious, embark on this journey of spiritual renewal.

Intent on understanding why my friends had undergone this dramatic religious transformation, I set out, along with fellow filmmaker Nadja Oertelt, to follow a new generation of young Jews as they spent their post-high school year in Israel. Unorthodox follows three teenagers from the New York/New Jersey area as they spend the 2005-2006 year in Israel. In addition, Jake, Chaim and Tzipi document themselves with video diaries, offering an incredibly personal glimpse into their lives.

Through the documentation of this phenomenon, I was forced to confront my own painful decisions and the impact my departure. Unorthodox integrates the subjects’ video diaries, professional documentary footage, and my narration to tell the story of personal change as three young individuals attempt to confront difficult religious and emotional questions. Through several richly layered narratives, the film explores the role of society, family and nations in influencing beliefs, the nature of religious metamorphoses, and the border dividing Orthodoxy and mainstream society. Unorthodox is a film that represents a more universal narrative—the story of anyone who has ever truly confronted her most deeply rooted beliefs.


2 Responses to Unorthodox (working title: Awaken) – an Introduction

  1. Roger Lyons says:


    Your film sounds fascinating. Both of my sons took part in the Birthright program, and one of them became Orthodox (for a year and a half).

    I have a VHS copy of a film that might interest you. I didn’t produce, but I would be happy to lend it to you if you would like. It’s called “My Brother’s Wedding”, and it’s about two brother who grew up in Brookline, and one of them moved to Israel, becoming a die-hard Orthodox Jew. His family hardly recognized him when they went to his wedding a while later.

    Let me know if this interests you. I’m looking forward to seeing your film–at any stage–if possible.

    I’m producing my own doc, as we speak, about a Holocaust survivor who returns to Poland for the first time since he was in 10 concentration camps as a child. Wish I had help from a place like WGBH, where I used to work myself a while back in On-Air Promotion.

    Anyway, good luck with your film. I hope to hear from you soon. Thanks for your time.

  2. Anna Wexler says:

    Hi Roger,
    Thanks for the comment.
    Funny, I just rented “Killer of Sheep” by Charles Burnett and the two-disc DVD comes with his other feature, which is also called “My Brother’s Wedding” — so I had a brief moment of confusion there.

    Someone did tell me about the “My Brother’s Wedding” that you’re referring to — the one directed by Dan Akiba — but no, I haven’t seen it yet. Thanks for reminding me. It sounds like there are very similar ideas running through both of our films. It’s interesting how many people have had personal experiences with a close friend/family member undergoing a dramatic religious transformation.

    In terms of Unorthodox, we’ll be screening a 20-min rough cut in the Boston area over the next few weeks and a website/mailing list is forthcoming.
    (I’m not sure if you can send me an email via this blog, but if not, my website has my email, and I can email you our screening schedule once it’s finalized.)

    Good luck with your film as well!

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