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Filmmaker Sal Natale explores link with Jewish faith and sexuality

UB '17 alum to be featured in the 33rd Annual Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival

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Sal Natale didn’t know much about the Jewish faith before this summer when he travelled to Israel for the Jerusalem Film Workshop. The Department of Media Study graduate was the only person on his team of filmmakers who did not speak any Hebrew.

Natale learned about the faith and culture during his time in Israel, which influenced his latest film, “How to Ride an Elevator on Shabbat.” The short documentary about a gay man of Jewish faith and his struggle to reconcile the two lifestyles will be screened at the 33rd Annual Buffalo International Jewish Film Festival.

“It was an interesting, thought-provoking short documentary,” said Yoni Collins, a Toronto film producer and workshop participant. “Religion versus sexuality is always a controversial and difficult topic to tackle, but [Natale] and the other filmmakers did it with delicacy and created a really beautiful, heartbreaking look at [the topic] on a personal level.”

Natale’s team of four, as part of the six-week long film workshop, wanted to touch on sexuality in the Hasidic Jewish faith but was unsure how to approach it during its short trip. After settling on a concept about the LGBTQ community in Jerusalem, they looked to find their subject.

Nadav Shwartz is a member of Jerusalem’s Open House for Pride and Tolerance and the subject of the documentary. He advocates for the acceptance of homosexuality in the Jewish religion, according to Natale.

“When [Shwartz] goes to talk with religious leaders, he is working with them to try to get the gay lifestyle more inclusive and acceptable in Israel,” Natale said.

“His big thing is it’s not ‘can’ but ‘how’ can you be gay and be Jewish. When you ask can you be gay while having a Jewish faith, the answer is no. When you turn ‘can’ into ‘how,’ that’s when they started looking at it different.”

The film’s title reflects Shabbat, which is a day of rest and abandonment of work. On Shabbat, members of the Jewish faith are prohibited from using cars and electricity.

“There is a Shabbat elevator,” Natale said. “Even though it’s not the most efficient, it will get to the 17th floor of a building eventually, so the question is it’s not ‘can’ you use an elevator on Shabbat, it’s ‘how’ do you use an elevator on Shabbat.”

“That’s the correlation he wanted to approaching the ‘how,’ to have an inclusive lifestyle being gay and upholding the Jewish faith.”

Jordana Halpern, the director of cultural arts at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo, said the Jerusalem Film Workshop approached her film festival to support program participants.

After learning Natale would be involved, Halpern reached out to the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies, who considered him for the festival and offered to contribute a sponsorship.
“We have the highest regard for the Jerusalem Film Workshop and Festival and we’re thrilled that as a result, Sal’s film, ‘How to Ride an Elevator on Shabbat,’ will be part of our festival,” Halpern said.

“Sal is a talented filmmaker who was clearly influenced by his time in Israel with the Jerusalem Film Workshop and we’re excited to see what he creates next.”

Natale, who started his filmmaking YouTube channel Film Lyfe this year, hopes his film exposes people immersed in Western culture to a bigger view of the world. The film will play at the Dipson Amherst Theatre on March 11 and 14.

Benjamin Blanchet is the senior features editor and can be contacted at benjamin.blanchet@ubspectrum.com.


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