The fight for justice of a Latina cleaning lady in Hasidic Brooklyn.
Interview with Writer/Producer/Actor Michal Birnbaum and Producer/Actor Lorena Rodriguez
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
A few years ago, a young man was arrested for wage theft on the corner of Division & Marcy Ave. in Brooklyn. He hired cleaning ladies from the corner, sent them to (mostly) Hasidic houses to clean, got paid from the clients but failed to pay the cleaning ladies. After hearing about the case and doing some research, we realized there is an interesting story here that must be told. Not only the cleaning ladies (mostly undocumented) are trapped in an impossible reality of trying to maintain a job without papers, but also the Jewish ladies of the Hasidic community are subjected to the strict rules of their own community, that is controlled by the rabbis and the men in the family.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
You should watch the film if you care about social justice and workers rights. If you want to find out how women from very different background and come together to make our world a little better - this is the film for you!
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The ladies on the corner come from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Poland, Romania and other countries. Some of them are unable to issue a work visa because they have no academic background. Others are unable to cover the costs of the application process. The majority of them have dependents – either kids or other family members. The way we see it, it is a big sacrifice on their part to stand on the streets of Brooklyn and seek work in order to put food on their table. This, once again, shows the length that women are willing to travel to protect and provide for their loved ones.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
We started with only one scene - the scene where Fernanda, the cleaning lady, finally finds the courage to tell her employer, Nechama, that she isn't getting paid by the cleaning agency. We then created a teaser and a crowdfunding video for our Kickstarter campaign (raising over 15K). Michal then wrote the rest of the script with a back and forth with Lorena and Tamar. The hardest part was to make a believable shift in Nechama's perspective, to get her to bond with another woman that is not part of her Jewish world, which is unusual and forbidden.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Some people in the Jewish community feel that Division Ave is misrepresenting the reality in Williamsburg and that the film is making ALL Jews look bad. As some of us in the production are Jewish ourselves, we think that in order to solve an issue, it must be discussed openly. In addition, the film tells the story of an inner conflict in the Jewish community as some members do want to see change in the way domestic workers are treated.
Others, most people who live in Brooklyn, were surprised to hear that such modern slave markets exist so close to home and were happy that the story gets told in a way that a lot more people know about it. We even had a few ladies who used to work in the corner contact us, saying how moved they were by the idea that their story is being told.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
We welcome all types of feedback and in fact, prefer a negative one over no reaction at all. That means we have succeeded in sparking a conversation regarding the reality of domestic workers and that is the most important aspect of making this film.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
We would like the readers to think about the domestic workers in their own community. Are they being paid a fair wage? Are they paid the amounts that they were promised? Do they have a safe work environment (i.e gloves, face mask, mop etc.).
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
There is a lot more to tell about Division Ave and we hope to make this story into a feature film or a series which will be made possible by meeting a producer or an investor that is passionate about this story as much as we are!
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
We would like people to see how individuals, who presumably have a very different lifestyle and religious beliefs, can come together to create a better society for their children. Even though the two women in the film are held back by the men in their lives, they still find a way to make it work together.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
What is our obligation as a society towards workers that are at the bottom of the chain? And what are we doing as individuals who hire them for cleaning to make sure that they are respected?
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Michal Birnbaum is the host of a new YouTube channel called The Spotlighter about theatre history.
Lorena Rodriguez, currently residing in Colombia, is working on a new theater production in the city.
Nadav Remez is planning a couple of album releases with two projects: Fishes and ELK3.
Interview: April 2019
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series, music video, women's films, LGBTQIA+, POC, First Nations, scifi, supernatural, horror, world cinema. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
The fight for justice of a Latina cleaning lady in Hasidic Brooklyn.
Director: Tamar Glezerman
Producer: Michal Birnbaum, Lorena Rodriguez, Nadav Remez
Writer: Michal Birnbaum
About the writer, director and producer:
TAMAR GLEZERMAN is an Israeli writer, director and editor, living and working in Brooklyn. Tamar has written and directed a mid-length feature film – The Other War (2008), which Premiered at the Nashville International Film Festival and received much of media attention for its straightforward take on sexual identity and militarism in Israel. Her feature script – The Mission – is signed with Tender Productions (Israel) – the company behind Hatufim and it’s American adaptation – Homeland. GLEZERMAN edited the vastly popular Israeli documentary Paying for Justice, as well as the Berlinale featured short Grown Up. She was closing editor on IFP alumni Concussion, (Sundance, Special Jury Prize Winner Berlin), and Patrolman P (DOC NYC). Tamar has edited for clients ranging from Disney to Bob Dylan. (Like a Rolling Stone – winner of the Webby editing award, and Time Magazine’s video of the year).
MICHAL BIRNBAUM is an actor, writer and producer based in Brooklyn, NY. Born and raised in Israel, in an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, she spent her military service as an arts & entertainment reporter at the IDF radio station. BIRNBAUM moved to New York City to pursue her acting career. She graduated from the conservatory program of the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute and was also trained at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. Her NYC theater credits include classics by Moliere, Chekhov and Lord Byron. She also plays in the feature Nerve starring Emma Roberts.
LORENA RODRIGUEZ is an actress and producer, originally from Colombia. She performed in many different theaters in Colombia such as Teatro Barajas and Taetaro Nacional, where she played the lead in Mother Courage and Her Children. In Teatro La Candelaria, she was part of the creative ensemble Saltimbanqui. She graduated from the visual arts department of Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Directed and produced the documentary Marina y Jorge – Vida Encontradas, as well as the short filmFotoaguita, which participated in the Cartagena Film Festival.
RODRIGUEZ moved to New York where she produced Colombians soups and commercials. Her NYC credits as an actress include the theater productions of Dolores, Lady Fatima and The Poor Door. She graduated from The Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute, NYC.
Hailing from the outskirts of Tel Aviv, guitarist NADAV REMEZ is one of today’s emerging voices on the New York Jazz scene. Described as “an unassuming artist with a penchant for indie rock… forging a style built on understatement, logic and clarity,” REMEZ has established himself as a standout among a new crop of Israelis making waves in the jazz world, through his haunting guitar melodies and compositions that offer an intriguing combination of modern jazz, Jewish folk, and alternative rock.
Key cast: Lorena Rodriguez (Fernanda), Michal Birnbaum (Nechama), Nati Rabinowitz (Yoel), Luzer Twersky (Michoel), Nancy Castro (Daniela), Ronen Bay (Yanki), Isabella Carreras (Luisa)
Looking for: distributors, producers, journalists, film festival directors
Facebook: Division Ave
Hashtags used: #divisionavefilm
Funders: Kickstarter, Panavision, Puffin Foundation
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month? Washington, DC International Film Festival/Landmark's E Street Cinema - April 30, 2019; NYC Independent Film Festival/Producers Club Theater - May 8 & 10, 2019; Workers Unite Film Festival/Cinema Village - May 10, 2019; Bentonville Film Festival/Walmart Museum World Room - May 11, 2019; New Haven International Film Festival/7 Vera Dr. Bethel, CT - May 15-18, 2019.