My favorite anecdote about George Harrison is one that I’ve heard told by a few members of Monty Python. The comedy troupe was desperate for funds after a key backer of The Life of Brian backed out, afraid to be associated with what was certain to be a controversial movie. Harrison was friends with the Pythons and offered to put up the money himself. When asked later by an interviewer why he agreed to fund the project, Harrison replied, “Because I wanted to see it.”
It may well have been the most expensive ticket sold for that classic film, but in a very real sense Harrison’s motive is the key to today’s trend towards crowdfunding. A leading exponent of crowdfunding is Kickstarter, which provides a platform by which artists can solicit funds in exchange for various benefits after the work in question has been produced. That could mean an autographed CD or DVD, a poster, t-shirt, private concert, face-to-face meeting, credits in the film or CD booklet, etc. The key to crowdfunding is to convince the crowd that they want the finished product so badly that they will pony up and contribute to the costs of production.
The Kickstarter website claims that “Over 10 million people, from every continent on earth, have backed a Kickstarter project,” so apparently a lot of people are happy to plunk down their money in advance.
I myself have contributed to Kickstarter campaigns, and for the very reason mentioned above: I want the ultimate product. The most recent example was for a documentary with the compelling title, The Rabbi Goes West.
The restless rabbi
The work in progress of two Boston-area filmmakers, Gerald Peary and Amy Geller, the film focuses on an odd character: Rabbi Chaim Bruk, a devout Hasidic Jew who leaves the familiar but cramped environs of Brooklyn, New York, for Bozeman, Montana, a state 14 times the size of Israel with only 1,300 Jewish families. His mission: to place a mezuzah on the doorpost of every Montana Jew.
To no Jew’s surprise, the biggest objections to Rabbi Bruk’s efforts (in a sneak preview scene I was able to view, he refers to himself as a salesman who is selling Judaism) come from fellow Jews: reform and conservative rabbis who feel he is treading on their territory and not giving them their theological propers, and those who for various reasons may not want to “come out” as Jewish in Montana.
Along the way, we will meet his wife (who comes from the same Orthodox upbringing as Rabbi Bruk but insists she is a feminist) and their five adopted children (not that Bruk needs any other ways of being conspicuous, but one of his children is African-American). Oh, and like The Sound of Music, the fun gets broken up by Nazis.
We're Jews: we ask questions
Ultimately, the film explores religious and political diversity, both in-group and among diverse belief systems, and the sense of “otherness” as experienced by the Bruks, who are strangers in a strange land. The filmmakers are asking an important and timely question: In today's ideologically fractured world, how can empathy and compassion find a place?
Personally, I’d like to engage with that question through this movie, which is why I have supported it via Kickstarter. While most of the filming has been done, there is more to shoot, plus editing, scoring, and other necessities of film production. Peary and Geller are looking to raise $40,000 by August 10, 2018. Consider doing the mitzvah of kicking in a little something.