A teen comedy-drama from a Rochester native screenwriter — a film partly shot in Rochester — is currently showing at the Little Theater.
The coming-of-age story of Jewish teenagers, written by Rochester-area native screenwriter Jess Zeidman, used Temple Beth El as a filming location. A recent review of the film by The New York Times, “Tahara,” wrote, “The Hebrew school comedy ‘Tahara’ mimics the pungent pleasure of hearing teenage boys gossip as they come home from school: c is talkative, delicious and a bit cruel.”
“Tahara” premiered in 2020 at the local ImageOut festival, and Zeidman answered questions via email from the Democrat and the column afterwards. She did it again last week. Here are some of Zeidman’s responses in 2020 and from the past week.
Why did you want to make your film in Rochester?
Zeidman: I wrote this screenplay as a film set in Rochester, NY, specifically at Temple Beth El where we shot. So when the always generous (and I mean REALLY GENEROUS) Executive Director Debbie Zeger gave us the green light to film there, we decided to go. In the spirit of independent cinema, finding the perfect location is worth its weight in gold, and Temple Beth El is truly a dream to film in. …I want to specifically thank the Rochester Institute of Technology whose amazing film students brought their talent and energy to our set every day of the fortnight we shot at Beth El.
What happened with the cinema since Image Out?
Zeidman: Since Image Out, we’ve played a few more virtual festivals and continued our long and complicated distribution journey that involved a lot of rejection and reconfiguration. Luckily Film Movement became our amazing distribution partner who believed in our team and our project deserved a theatrical release and now we are playing in theaters across North America.
How does it feel to have him back in Rochester for a run at the Little?
Zeidman: Fascinating and surreal! The Little is one of my favorite places in my home and a huge inspiration to the films and artistic communities I’m involved with. The idea that artsy, angsty Rochester teens can go see “Tahara” and then chat, chat and mess around at Java’s is almost too much for me! It’s the coolest thing I could have imagined growing up and it’s a real honor to be programmed in a theater that means the world to me and that has shaped me as a filmmaker but also as a than anyone.
What’s next with you – other films planned?
Zeidman: I started a production company called Bumpy Toad that focuses on fun, weird, and hard-hitting indie projects. I started directing in collaboration with my romantic and artistic partner Justin Linville – we made two shorts earlier this year which will be released next year. I’m juggling a few writing projects for feature films and TV pilots and a novel that desperately needs editing. And I’m producing another queer indie dramedy called “Summer Solstice,” which we’re shooting in the Hudson Valley next month…not as far as Rochester, but still has that New York State energy. that I know and love.
What do you hope to be next with “Tahara”?
Zeidman: Hopefully when it’s safe enough to travel with the film on a consistent basis, we can screen it in schools, libraries and community centers everywhere – I wish a real teenager would respond (and kinda direct it) different from the one in the movie).
Can you give me a brief overview of Rochester’s connections? Where did you grow up? Which school?
Zeidman: I grew up in Rochester, specifically Pittsford, and graduated from Pittsford Sutherland High School in 2014. The Little is where I grew to love movies and spent most of my life there. my weekends as an angsty teenager trying to figure out who I was.
As someone whose life has always centered around theater and film, I have participated in the Rochester Broadway Theater League, the Geva Theater (which staged my very first play in 2013, also about toxic friendships !), Eastman Community School of Music, and Writers & Books.
Much of who I am as an artist is due to the thriving communities I was able to explore growing up in Rochester and I hope to continue to be part of the artistic community in any way possible. Or, I’ll put it this way: I don’t think “Tahara” will be the last movie I’ll make in Rochester!