Thanks to the Chaifetz family who connected with Next Year Jerusalem through the Jewish Federation, I was able to sit down with director David Gaynes over a breakfast of French toast, salmon lox, eggs and latkes.
The film is a portrait of eight nursing home residents who embark on a journey of discovery and reflection as they visit Israel. Even before the project, Gaynes had a history with the retirement home; he’d volunteered there as a teenager, and he’d filmed a string of small marketing projects as well as what he considers his first considerable documentary about the home’s beauty parlor. He channeled his personal connection with the establishment, and the personalities and stories mostly provided themselves. The film is an expression of his closeness to the institution as well as a demonstration of the sacredness in witnessing this last great vacation, except it wasn’t really a vacation.
“I describe it as a pilgrimage, but they aren’t all the same pilgrim. They come from different faiths and are looking for something different. You think it’s a Jewish film on the surface, and yet, it’s about a spiritual connection to Israel, travel and the sanctity of overcoming a challenge. That transcends religion.”
This was Gaynes’s third feature film, – he was here last year with All Me: The Life and Times of Winfred Rembert– and it’s a common denominator to explore issues of mortality in his work. He wants people to be changed by it and to reflect upon their own experiences, maybe challenge them to try something they thought impossible.
Saturday’s screening was the first public showing for Next Year Jerusalem, and it was saluted with a standing ovation. Gaynes expressed that that’s why you make the film, and it’s the dynamic of showing it to an audience that dictates how you express a story, what works and doesn’t.
The next step is still pending for this project, but the director feels there are opportunities to get their film out. It could reach similar audiences as that of Young at Heart. On the subject of distribution and exposure, I quoted Griffin Dunne from an early film fest interview that “nobody knows what the hell they’re doing.” He laughed and said that’s true, though he did revise it with this, “On an elemental level, filmmakers want to share their films with other people, and we also have a sense that we have a myriad of opportunities to share our films across any number of platforms. We do know what we want to do, but the economics of it are in flux.”
Gaynes praised the artistically challenging line up of this year’s festival and praised the ability to pack it so densely. “I have enough of the sense of the festival to recognize how much it appreciates artistry, and that’s not always the case. That’s a tone that has to be set by the board, and specifically, Tom Hall is a tremendous programmer.”