A few weeks’ ago, I got an invitation to come see a private screening of a film called Talking to God.
I haven’t been to a movie for somewhere around 12 years…. so of course I said ‘yes’. Hey, I get to do something Rabbenu related and still get to watch a film with no guilt or teshuva required? Are you kidding?!
So, I settled into for the 90 or so minutes expecting to see something cute, with its heart in the right place, around the AmDram level – and boy o boy, was I surprised. Talking to God had superb casting, a real plot, and was a real film, in every sense of the word.
The story revolves around a woman from New York, Rebecca, who is having troubles sleeping and can’t figure out what she’s supposed to be doing in life. Long story short, she gets to Uman, and Rebbe Nachman starts showing her some profound insights via one of his Tales, that end up turning her whole life around.
But what was truly amazing to me is that the film didn’t feel like a mussar lesson in the least, and actually had a lot of laugh-out-loud moments.
Between you and me, I’m at that stage of life where I can’t take any more of the ‘fake piety’ stuff anymore, where angels start strumming their harps as another saintly figure takes the stage to lecture everyone else on how to act.
But this film had a strong enough story that the moral of the story kind of slipped in unnoticed – like it does with all the best movies.
I was thinking about it for a good few days afterwards, which is when I decided to get in touch with the movie’s director and producer, Maya Batash, to find out how it came to be made.
We met for a coffee at Cinema City (man, I can’t stand that place…) and Maya explained the genesis of Talking to God.
The story begins back in 2010, when Rav Arush’s Garden of Emuna was just starting to take the English-speaking world by storm. A few years’ beforehand, Maya had shifted from her job as a successful neurologist to start to develop her long-forgotten creative side.
She’d gone back to school to study painting, and then decided she wanted to learn how to make indie films. In 2010, she’d just released ‘Out of the Fog’, a film with a theme of emotional healing, and was looking forward to working on a new comedy.
Instead, after a year of reading the Garden of Emuna, Maya found herself taking a trip to Uman, and then the whole plan changed.
“I went to Uman despite my lack of any initial desire to be there’” she recalls.
“A friend invited me on a group trip and despite my hesitation, somehow I ended up there just a few months later”. That trip led to three months of what Maya politely calls ‘spiritual surgery’, as the answer to that question, and others, started to swim into view. It wasn’t an easy experience, but perhaps strangely when another trip to Uman was announced the following year, in 2011, Maya explains; “I ran to go on it. And while I was in Uman the second time, I got the idea that I should make a film. Initially, I thought it should be some sort of documentary about people in Uman, and all their miraculous stories.”
Maya started taping videos of big Breslov rabbis like Rav Arush, and Rav Brody, to use in the documentary, like this clip below:
Maya also returned to Uman for a third time, this time with a camera, and a plan to interview some of the people there about their experiences of being by Rabbenu. “I wanted to interview ‘big’ people, the people who other people listen to, because I was finding it hard to get regular women to agree to talk to me,” she says.
But at some point, that plan fell by the wayside. “I didn’t have enough footage for a full documentary, and then I remembered I hate documentaries,” says Maya. But what she loved, was some of the stories that Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach used to tell from the Baal Shem Tov, and from Rebbe Nachman. And in particular, the story of ‘The Fixer’.
Slowly, Maya realized that while she didn’t want to make a documentary about emuna, she really did want to tell some of Rebbe Nachman’s stories.
The screenplay was written in Jerusalem’s cafes in 2012, and then Maya spent the next few years trying to raise the money required to start filming.
“This film had 30 actors, and a massive crew,” she says. “It was a huge undertaking, and I really needed some help to make it happen.”
Help came in the form of a producer called Kim Jackson who brought on another producer named Jonathan Federico, and then Talking to God really started to come together. A week before filming was due to begin, Maya finally found the right actor for the starring role of the Fixer, called Zebedee Row In the fall of 2014, Uman was transplanted to Staten Island, the film was shot, and Maya got on with the lengthy process of post-production and film editing.
And that’s when a few more miniot bobbed up to slow things down. Maya mother passed away in 2015, and Maya was also still trying to raise the funds required to get the film’s original music score written, and to complete the post-production.
“It took a lot of praying, a lot of hitbodedut, and a lot of trips to Uman,” she says. And now, Maya is trying to find a distributor who will get the films into theatres around the world. “I could release it online, but I really want it to be taken seriously. This film is for anyone who is looking for growth, healing, or meaning in their lives. There is a huge audience here, and the film needs the right distributor to be able to tap into it.”
In the meantime, Maya is submitting Talking to God to film festivals, and is continuing to pray that the right someone, somewhere, will notice it, and help to get it out there to a wider audience.
So, eight years after she first began the project, Talking to God is finally poised to go mainstream.
“What did making this movie teach you?” I asked her, over a cup of something hot at Cinema City.
“I’ve learned to talk to God daily which allows me to let go of whatever’s bothering me, whether it’s fear, anger, pain etc and give it over to the Source,” says Maya. “I’ve learned the importance of doing everything in my power to make myself happy. And how dancing and singing regularly can miraculously bring a person to real joy. Happiness is a choice,” she says.
What I can tell you is that watching the ‘private screening for feedback’ of Talking to God made me very happy. And I have a feeling that the film might have that effect on a few million other people, too.
To learn more, visit: www.talkingtoGodmovie.com
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